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“How the Newest Federal Prison Became One of the Deadliest”

Excellence in Audio Storytelling, honoring Jack R. Howard

The Marshall Project | NPR, 2023

Author(s): Christie Thompson | The Marshall Project , Joseph Shapiro | NPR


In a collaborative work six years in the making, investigative journalists Christie Thompson and Joseph Shapiro powerfully and artfully tell the story of how the country’s newest federal penitentiary has become one of the deadliest.  

Following on their reporting from 2016, Thompson and Shapiro set out to determine if conditions at a maximum-security unit had improved since being relocated from Pennsylvania to a new penitentiary that was built in rural Illinois. They learned that patterns of abuse and violence have continued, resulting in the deaths of five inmates in suspected homicides since the new prison opened in 2018.  

Thompson and Shapiro relied on federal prison data and documents, transcripts from criminal and civil court cases, correspondence with inmates and interviews with dozens of people, including relatives of inmates who died at the facility. They make a compelling case, drawing attention to practices and policies at the new penitentiary that likely contributed to violent and abusive conditions for inmates.  

The Marshall Project published Thompson’s and Shapiro’s diligent investigative reporting, which also aired during multiple broadcasts on NPR’s All Things Considered and Morning Edition. The work has prompted congressional calls to action and an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department’s Inspector General. It has been shared by a number of advocacy groups via social media, drawing attention to conditions at the new prison.