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Home > Publications > Quill > Crime and Punishment


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Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Crime and Punishment

Check out some of the fabulous work that can be done when reporters look beyond the obvious

Commentary by Jon Marshall

Excellent crime reporting takes readers beyond the basic who, what, where and when. It examines the causes and impact of crime by exploring how and why, as these stories demonstrate.

Prevention

In “Seen, but Not Heard,” Bill Bishop of The Register-Guard in Eugene, Ore., takes a sharp look at how the state’s government failed to stop a crime.

Bishop investigates why the Oregon Department of Human Services didn’t remove 5-year-old Lacey Folenius from her violent home despite concerns by her school bus driver, Head Start teachers and some of her relatives.

Lacey ended up bleeding to death from a massive blow, and her father’s girlfriend is now serving 17 years in prison after a conviction of first-degree manslaughter.

Read it: www.registerguard.com/news/2006/12/17/a1.lacey.1217.p1.php?section=cityregion

The investigation

Jon Wells of The Hamilton Spectator is one of America’s best crime writers. In “To the Grave,” he describes the police hunt for the killer of young women in Ontario, Canada.

Wells writes in a novelistic style, backing up his narrative with reporting that includes hundreds of pages of court documents and interviews with dozens of police officers, forensic experts and friends and relatives of the victims. The result is a tensely plotted story told in 13 chapters full of strong characters and vivid scenes. The Web package includes videos of friends and family talking about the victims and Gary Yokoyama’s powerful photos.

Warning: This series contains some disturbing, graphic passages: www.hamiltonspectator.com/grave/articles/index.html

Before the trial

“A Chase, an Outcry, Then Shots in the Dark” by Thomas Lake and Molly Moorhead of the St. Petersburg Times is a great example of how to advance a murder trial. Using a brilliant narrative style, Lake and Moorhead reconstruct a fatal car chase and its aftermath. Along the way, they weave together compelling details about a near race riot, a dead sheriff’s deputy and a troubled former NFL star.

Read it: www.sptimes.com/2007/04/15/Tampabay/A_chase__an_outcry__t.shtml

Detention

The Dallas Morning News has a jaw-dropping investigative series on how officials of the Texas youth detention system covered up widespread sexual abuse of young inmates by jail staff. The first story by Doug J. Swanson detailed how workers at the West Texas State School complained for more than a year that their bosses were molesting male inmates and no one was being punished.

In March, Swanson, Gregg Jones and Holly Becka described how a culture of institutionalized vengeance permeated the Texas Youth Commission, which operates the juvenile prisons. They reported that juveniles or staffers who spoke out against the abuse were punished, sometimes violently. As a result of the investigations, two top Youth Commission officials were forced from their jobs. 

Check it out: www.dallasnews.com/investigativereports/tyc

Collateral damage

In “Uncounted and Unseen,” Jeff Kelly Lowenstein of The Chicago Reporter describes how services for kids of incarcerated parents “resemble a fragile web in which few of the strands connect and through which many children fall.”

He describes how these children become the invisible victims of crime, increasing the odds they will repeat the mistakes their parents made. What I especially like about this story is that it suggests possible solutions as well as identifying problems.

Check it out: www.chicagoreporter.com/2007/3-2007/institution/institution.htm?tr=y&auid=2581050

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