The Prison Journalism Project
The Prison Journalism Project’s mission is to help incarcerated writers and those in communities affected by incarceration tell stories about their world using the tools of journalism: gathering and testing facts, writing with nuance, texture and insight and reaching a thoughtful audience.
Click here to visit our publication with stories by our incarcerated writers and others impacted by incarceration. The site includes information for those who want to write or volunteer for us.
"When you think about it, who's got better access to stories than a prisoner? We live among some of society's most colorful characters." — John J. Lennon, prison journalist and PJP fellow.
Journalism wields enormous power by choosing who and what to highlight. Today, most stories about prisons, prisoners and the criminal justice system are written with an outside perspective. We are creating a space for writers who know the system from the inside to take the power of journalism into their own hands, to learn the craft of journalistic storytelling, to share the stories of life behind bars.
The Prison Journalism Project is an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan national initiative at Penn State University, founded by journalists and university professors with experience teaching journalism inside the walls. We aim to increase the volume and quality of voices in the conversation about criminal justice and incarceration through access, collaboration and education. By bridging the gaps in information, we believe they can shift the narrative and help change the prison system.
We started an online publication in April 2020 that lets first-time writers experience the satisfaction of publishing while also giving more serious writers a way to develop their skills, build credibility and get their stories out. Every writer has a portfolio page where their stories are posted. Notable works and our best regular writers are highlighted through our Spotlight and Featured story sections as well as a contributing writers’ program.
In 2020, we published over 300 articles, essays, poems and multimedia stories by over 140 writers across 28 states, who have written about the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, police brutality, health care and prison life.
In 2021, we aim to publish more than 400 submissions by over 150 writers from prisons, jails and the communities most affected by incarceration. At least five will be in partnership with major media outlets, and we anticipate that some of the stories will have an impact on government and prison policy. We are also planning a writing contest and a Best of 2020 anthology.
We aim to provide incarcerated writers with the tools and training to establish themselves as credible journalists. We contributed to the journalism chapter of the upcoming PEN America Handbook for Writers in Prison. We have plans to develop a correspondence-based curriculum, a journalism textbook that incorporates comics and a framework for in-prison classes. We also support journalism teachers and professors who teach classes that touch on mass incarceration.
While the PJP is independent and impartial, we collaborate with a wide variety of organizations where we have shared interests. We work with mainstream news outlets so that our writers can reach a larger audience. We work with educators to share curricula and to enlist student and faculty volunteers. And we join with advocates promoting greater access and transparency.