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How The Garrison Project Promotes Criminal Justice Reporting

The Garrison Project has produced 48 stories about criminal justice issues in a bit more than two years. “Building an audience to a specific site is incredibly hard,” Ethan Brown, Garrison’s founder and editor-in-chief, tells Nieman Lab.. “That doesn’t mean I don’t want to do hard things — I do. But I’d much rather be doing hard things in the stories, in the journalism, you know what I mean?” The project is named for the 19th-century abolitionist and journalist William Lloyd Garrison. It seeks to address "the crisis of mass incarceration, policing, and criminalization through investigative reporting and analysis.” Brown serves as a central editing hub for a network of dozens of freelancers across the country, all of whom share an interest in the complex intersection of policing, prisons, and courts.

Brown moved from New York to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Louisiana is home to the world's highest incarceration rate and the highest murder rate of any state for 31 years, a brutal prison system and high levels of police violence, abuse, corruption and misconduct. Concerns about police misconduct and courtroom injustices can be found in every state, but the specific players involved are typically local sheriffs, local jailers, local district attorneys, and local judges. Effective national reporting is hampered by both that balkanization and the poor state of national data. Brown has written four books, most recently Murder in the Bayou, which digs into the "Jeff Davis 8," eight women found murdered near the small Louisiana town of Jennings. He had nearly a decade of experience working inside the criminal justice system as a mitigation specialist for attorneys representing death-penalty defendants, mostly in Louisiana and surrounding states. That work meant hundreds of visits to prisons.


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