Convict Journalists: Award Winning Newspaper Written by Prison Inmates


There’s an award winning newspaper at the San Quentin State Penitentiary in Marin County, CA.  The San Quentin News  is a monthly 20 page periodical written by inmates.  The SQN was awarded a prize by the Society of Professional Journalists for the paper’s “invaluable public service, not just to fellow prisoners but to the general public at large.”  This is due to the paper’s focus on covering positive success stories of current and former inmates.

One especially popular advice piece covered how incarcerated parents could stay connected with their kids.  Editor and inmate Juan Haines comments, “We recognize that we are inmates, felons, convicted criminals and are being punished and isolated form society under the law… (the positive thrust)  keeps us on the right track, because talking about the administration typically ends up being a negative story, while talking about what we do is positive.  It’s different than mainstream media.  But why not tell our positive stories in a place so dank?”

This story caught my attention because many stories having to do with prisons focus on violence.  The prison system in the US is clearly broken and expensive, averaging $31,307 a year per inmate according to a study The Price of Prisons.  Also, rehabilitation of inmates often seems to be an after thought.  Convicts often find it difficult to find gainful employment with a felony charge and few skills.  The SQN is an example of a prison trying to give inmates purpose and useful skills.  This is a small successful step that speaks to the need for prison reform.

Any comments or ideas on how prisons in the US should be changed?

 

Read the article here on the Columbia Journalism Review: http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/the_san_quentin_news_seeks_to.php

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8 responses to “Convict Journalists: Award Winning Newspaper Written by Prison Inmates

  1. I find it amazing that in a “place so dank” the stories are focussed on positivity while in society we are always complaining that the news stories are so negative. My theory towards this is that the prison news is seen as an ideal or goal that current prisoners can strive for. They use the stories as motivation of how they can be successful once they are out of prison. In society however, I think that the popular stories are negative to show people how “things could be worse” relative to their own lives. For the prisoners since there are not many things worse than being in prison, there is nothing worse to compare to, which leads to the primarily positive stories. What do you think?

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  2. My blog post this week was about the need for reform in the US prison system, too. Low wages and lack of employable skills upon release perpetuates the cycle of incarceration. More programs like these newspapers should be instituted in prisons because they give inmates a sense of contribution and normalcy as well as provide them with useful experience for the outside workforce. Unfortunately, with insufficient funding and sky-high operational expenses, many prisons cannot afford to support these beneficial programs.

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    • Yes, I also agree. In many European prisons the environment is much more relaxed. While there are guards to keep them there the social environment is less hostile. Instituting reforms that improve the social climate of prisons could also lower expenses by lessening the need for guards and expensive systems.

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  3. I like how you pointed out many jail stories have to do with violence and that it is good to see one that does not talk about that. Some people who go to jail don’t ever change, but there are some that do. The inmates who partake in this periodical seem to be ones that want to prove they made a mistake and when/if they get released they will be changed people. It’s good to explore a story like this because it tries to bring light to something so dark.

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  4. What you described in this post reminds me of The Shawshank Redemption, specifically when protagonist Andy Dufresne establishes a library and educates his fellow inmates. If inmates can maintain some type of education while in prison, it might give them a fighting chance once they are placed back in society. But if they don’t engage in any brain-stimulating activities during their sentence, their return to society may be unproductive.

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    • Good connection, that’s one of my favorite movies. Ideally there are activities inmates could do in prison that would provide value for society and teach valuable skills to inmates. For example, picking up garbage on a highway is valuable to society but doesn’t teach meaningful skills. Maybe we need to train some inmate computer coders.

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  5. It is often so easy to simply ignore the other parts of a convict’s humanity or agency. In other words, once labelled “prisoner,” we tend to think of them as non-entities. It is almost like social execution…

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