In 2014, PRI held an international competition for the best investigative journalism on the death penalty and/or life imprisonment. Nancy was awarded the English language prize for two episodes of Life of the Law, an online radio magazine covering legal issues: One Reporter on California’s Death Row, and Jailhouse Lawyers.
Jailhouse Lawyers explores a little known anomaly in the US legal landscape. Although death row prisoners are entitled to pro bono legal services to mount their appeals, all other prisoners, once convicted and sentenced, are no longer entitled to legal aid. As a result many prisoners resort to investigating their own cases so they can represent themselves. Many become so expert that they then start to act as ‘jailhouse lawyers’ representing not only themselves but other inmates too. In California, there are hundreds if not thousands of people practising criminal law though they have never passed a bar exam. Once released however, they are unable to practice.
Over the past decade, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has denied press access to all death rows in the state. But on one day in June 2012, after years of reporting on prisons in the state, Nancy was given exclusive press access to all three death row cells blocks and the prisoners serving death sentences at San Quentin prison. One Report on California’s Death Row is the story of that day.
About the competition
The Russian language category was won by young Belarusian journalist, Adaria Gushtyn – read her articles in English or Russian here. Her articles digging into the facts behind death penalty cases in Belarus are providing an important public record of an often secretive process. The Arabic language category by Omar Maharmeh who examines why Jordan – which has had a suspension on executions for many years – has yet to abolish the death penalty for good.
This competition was held as part of PRI’s project ‘Progressive abolition of the death penalty and implementation of humane alternative sanctions’, which is funded by the European Union.