The Marshall Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization founded on two simple ideas:
1) There is a pressing national need for high-quality journalism about the American criminal justice system. The U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world. Spiraling costs, inhumane prison conditions, controversial drug laws, and concerns about systemic racial bias have contributed to a growing bipartisan consensus that our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform.
The recent disruption in traditional media means that fewer institutions have the resources to take on complex issues such as criminal justice. The Marshall Project stands out against this landscape by investing in journalism on all aspects of our justice system. Our work will be shaped by accuracy, fairness, independence, and impartiality, with an emphasis on stories that have been underreported or misunderstood. We will partner with a broad array of media organizations to magnify our message, and our innovative website will serve as a dynamic hub for the most significant news and comment from the world of criminal justice.
2) With the growing awareness of the system’s failings, now is an opportune moment to amplify the national conversation about criminal justice.
We believe that storytelling can be a powerful agent of social change. Our mission is to raise public awareness around issues of criminal justice and the possibility for reform. But while we are nonpartisan, we are not neutral. Our hope is that by bringing transparency to the systemic problems that plague our courts and prisons, we can help stimulate a national conversation about how best to reform our system of crime and punishment.
A Letter from Our Founder
By Neil Barsky, 11.15.2014The seeds of The Marshall Project were planted a few years ago after I read two books. The first, Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” argues that mass incarceration — which dates roughly from President Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs in the 1980s to the present—represents the third phase of African-American oppression in the United States, after slavery and Jim Crow. Alexander documents how the United States came to be the world’s biggest jailer by enacting policies that represented a bipartisan shift in how we address addiction, mental illness, and other non-violent forms of misconduct. Fueled in part by a reaction to civil rights gains and in part by fear of escalating crime, Alexander claims, we enacted tough drug laws, imposed greater mandatory minimum sentences, and ignited a prison boom. Intent can be difficult to prove; impact is irrefutable.
The second, Gilbert King’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Devil in the Grove,” explores the case of four African-American males falsely accused of rape in Lake County, Fla., and the vigilante violence that ensued. At the center of the drama was NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Thurgood Marshall, the future Supreme Court justice, who bravely but largely futilely fought in Florida's courts to spare these young men's lives. This took place in 1949, before Brown v. Board of Education (a Marshall legal triumph) and before an organized national movement to combat the Jim Crow segregation laws. The national press did not cover the proceedings.
Spurred on by these chapters in American history, I continued to explore our country's system of crime and punishment. What struck me was not only how expensive, ineffective, and racially biased it is, and how difficult it is to find anyone, liberal or conservative, who defends the status quo. But also how our condition has become taken for granted. Other American crises — soaring health-care costs, the failure of public education — typically lead to public debate and legislative action. But the spike in mass incarceration appears to have had the opposite effect: The general public has become inured to the overuse of solitary confinement, the widespread incidence of prison rape and the mixing of teens and adults in hardcore prisons. The more people we put behind bars, it seemed, the more the issue receded from the public consciousness.
The Marshall Project represents our attempt to elevate the criminal justice issue to one of national urgency, and to help spark a national conversation about reform. I named our organization after Justice Marshall simply because he embodies the principles we hold dear. He was scholarly, he was courageous, and he fiercely believed that the U.S. Constitution was the template to secure civil rights for all.
The Marshall Project will practice open-minded, fact-based journalism without fear or favor. Our editor, Bill Keller, has assembled a first-class team of reporters and editors dedicated to excellence, nonpartisan reporting, and innovation. We are a journalism organization because we think that journalism, done honestly and well, has infinite power to drive change. One need only look to the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements to appreciate how important journalists were in shaping public opinion. We do not need to be strident or ideological or selective in our use of facts . When the truth is as disturbing as it was in the segregated South, or in Vietnam, or today's prisons and courts, truthful reporting can have a powerful impact. We will explore what is working as well as what is broken, and where the potential exists for meaningful reform. Our commentary section will be written by individuals whose views encompass a broad range of perspectives. Our board of advisers, for example, includes both the inspirational civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson from the Equal Justice Initiative, and the conservative thinker Marc Levin from Right on Crime, both of whom have devoted their careers to making our system more humane and effective.
Being nonpartisan is not the same as being neutral. We approach the issue with the view — shared by a growing number of conservatives and liberals — that our system needs serious rethinking. Thank you for your interest in The Marshall Project, and please do not hesitate to tell us what you think.
A Letter from Our Editor
By Bill Keller, 11.15.2014In March I left The New York Times after 30 years there as a reporter, editor and columnist to help launch something new: a non-profit newsroom devoted to coverage of the American criminal justice system.
In the ensuing months we have assembled a diverse team of journalists, set in motion a wide range of reporting projects, built a website to serve as a worthy stage for our journalism, and begun to forge partnerships with a range of established media organizations that will amplify our voice.
We are not here to promote any particular agenda or ideology. But we have a sense of mission. We want to move the discussion of our institutions of justice — law enforcement, courts, prisons, probation — to a more central place in our national dialogue. We believe, as the great jurist Thurgood Marshall did, that protection under the law is the most fundamental civil right in a free society. Yet, by the numbers, the United States is a global outlier, with a prison population matched by no nation except, possibly, North Korea, with a justice system that disproportionately afflicts communities of need and of color, with a corrections regime that rarely corrects.
We aim to accomplish our mission through probing, fair-minded journalism, combining investigative rigor, careful analysis, and lively storytelling. We will examine the failings of our criminal justice system — but also test promising reforms. While a number of news organizations are doing distinguished reporting on crime and punishment, the journalistic energy devoted to this kind of reporting, time consuming and expensive as it is, has been sapped by the financial traumas of the news industry. Our aim is both to restore some of that lost energy and to be a catalyst for coverage elsewhere. We will publish the fruits of our reporting here and expand our audience by collaborating with first-rate newspapers, magazines, broadcasters and other online news sites.
In addition to our original reporting, we will compile the most interesting news and commentary from around the world of criminal justice, distributing our findings in our daily email, and offer this site as a hub for debate and accord. We are nonpartisan and nonideological, which means you will find here the voices of progressives and conservatives, centrists and provocateurs. As it happens, criminal justice is one of the few areas of public policy where there is a significant patch of common ground between right and left.
We are also nonprofit, dependent on the generosity of foundations and individuals. Our website and email are free of charge, but we invite you to click the “donate” button if you find The Marshall Project to be of interest and value. And join the conversation on social media or through our Letters to the Editor feature.