Fifteen news organizations in Philadelphia are collaborating on solutions-oriented coverage of the challenges facing the formerly incarcerated in Philadelphia.
Here are some uncomfortable facts about Philadelphia:
- We have the highest per-capita incarceration rate of America’s 15 largest cities.
- We are have the highest number of juvenile lifers of any city — 300. And the commonwealth of Pennsylvania has the highest number of any state — 500.
- Pennsylvania has the highest parole supervision rate in the country. Almost 250,000 people in the state are supervised by 65 county probation departments on any given day.
“In 2016, there is national consensus that mass incarceration, as a social experiment, has failed,” writes Solutions journalist Jean Friedman-Rudovsky — who, along with Philly.com reporter Jane Von Bergen first conceived of this project. “It will be impossible to dramatically reduce the prison population nor change the social landscape that’s been created by the criminal justice system until the revolving door of re-incarceration is stopped.”
While criminal justice challenges have increasingly become part of our public discourse and national media coverage, the issues surrounding reentry haven’t gotten much attention. The notice the topic has garnered has often been fragmented, and focused on the intractability of the challenges.
What good does it do to know that 5 percent of those released in 2005 were re-arrested within five years and more than half ended up back in prison, without looking at how some places and programs have successfully disrupted that narrative?
Enter Solutions Journalism Network, the Philadelphia Reentry Reporting Collaborative’s organizing partner.
SJN trains journalists and editors to look at how social problems are being solved, and supports media outlets in creating high-impact solutions-centered projects like ours.
Underpinning SJN’s effort is the understanding that communities often feel that the challenges they face are uniquely entrenched and too big to be solved . But that fatalism can be countered by rigorously examining relevant solutions already in place (in Philadelphia and elsewhere) and crafting the kind of story that has the power to engage and catalyze audiences, readerships and the community at large.
The partners in the Philadelphia Reentry Reporting Collaborative include daily papers — the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News; the thrice-weekly Philadelphia Tribune ; the Spanish-language weekly El Sol; monthly publications — Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Philadelphia Magazine; digital news sites — Generocity, NextCity, Philadelphia Citizen, Philly.com, Newsworks and Technical.ly; Philadelphia’s WHYY public radio, and commercial radio outlets WURD 900 AM and El Zol 97.1 FM; and PhillyCam, Philadelphia’s community access media.
In addition, Temple University’s School of Media and Communication and Muhlenberg College’s journalism classes are integral to the collaborative and especially important in engaging a millennial generation already keenly attuned to criminal justice questions in a majority-minority city like Philadelphia, and a city on the brink of minority parity like Allentown.
The result of this collaboration will be the stories showcased on this website and in various forms across the member newsrooms’ sites, papers, and broadcasts, starting November 16.
We’ve focused this early launch of the website on stories related to reentry that collaborative partners wrote in advance of the project — giving you a sense of the breadth of initiatives and individuals grappling with this important issue.
Over the next six months, in addition to the solid reporting, data and solutions-oriented stories you will see on this site, you will have access to blog posts and other types of original content from community members such as Tyrone Werts, who served nearly 37 years of a life sentence in Pennsylvania’s Graterford prison and now works for the international Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at Temple University, as well as by members of organizations like the People’s Paper Coop and Media Mobilizing Project, among many others.
In addition, we’ll publish information about the public conversations, breakout interviews, and community outreach events that we — and others — are creating around the topic of reentry.
And we are inviting those who have been directly impacted by reentry — those formerly incarcerated, and their family and friends — to raise your voices and share your stories with us.
We hope, through the work of this project, to cultivate a sort of solutions mindset that counters “the Philly shrug.”
We know that solutions reporting can make a difference, and so can your engagement — with us and with the challenges and solutions we will be exploring.
Let’s do this together.