Forty years ago, President Richard Nixon and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller rolled out tough new drug laws that changed the way we think about crime, punishment and justice:
America went from being a society that locked up relatively few people to the nation that locks up more people per capita than any other country. These policies have affected millions of lives, transformed whole communities in ways that no one really understands.
In an hour-long documentary that will air on public radio stations nationwide, we’ll capture that change in the lives of the people who were most deeply affected by it.
From a man standing in front of Attica Prison, staring into a fifteen year sentence for possession,
to the former assistant DA who prosecuted him,
to the mother sitting at her kitchen table, remembering the moment her son went off to prison.
In January of this 40th anniversary year of the Rockefeller laws, we started asking the hardest, toughest questions we could about what this era of mass incarceration has meant.
We're asking if America's prison system is putting the right people behind bars. We're tackling these questions by traveling the US, talking to prison guards, former inmates, people who are currently incarcerated, judges, husbands and wives.
By the end of the year, we’ll produce a feature-length radio documentary that puts all the pieces of the puzzle in one place to tell this chapter of the American story.
It will air on public radio stations nationwide, be available online, and play at public listening events inside school classrooms, community halls, and prison libraries.
Who we are and why we need you
We live and work in northern New York, one of the landscapes changed forever by America's prison-building boom. There are a lot of dairy farms, quaint small towns and gorgeous mountain summits.
But really the economy here is driven by nearly twenty local, state and Federal incarceration facilities. Locking up people is what we do here.
We’re based at North Country Public Radio, and that’s where all of the stories we’re producing over the course of this year are airing. And we’re working on this series in partnership with some cool folks and big players like NPR and WNYC.
They're willing to air our stories once they're produced and ready, which is amazing.
But they don't have the dollars to help us do the reporting and interviews and deep research that this project requires, and most importantly: they also don't have the cash to help us create the full-length documentary.
That's where your $1 or $10 or $100 comes in.
Remember, we're not just telling one-off stories about prisons and drug dealers. With your help, we're making connections, starting a nation-wide conversation, trying to help people think more deeply about the ways that these policies and ideas have changed us.
The Drug Laws That Changed How We Punish: What led us to the passing of the Rockefeller Laws.
Fifteen to Life: The story of a man sentenced under the laws before most people had even learned about them.
Prison for Sale: What happens to prisons and correctional facilities when there aren't enough inmates to fill the jail cells?
New York's last state prison nursery: Why are the numbers of mothers in the prison nurseries going down when there are more women in US prisons than ever before?
And thank you!
Risks and challenges
Talking about America's prison system is painful, controversial and complex.
Already, we've struggled to gain access to some prison facilities and to find key sources.
We've already begun sorting through the complicated and often difficult-to-find archival history that explains the context for our era of mass-incarceration.
Some of the stories we've wanted to tell have eluded us so far. Investigative journalism is like that. There's a lot of shoe-leather and sometimes you hit dead ends.
This Kickstarter project won't guarantee that every story will get told, but it does allow us to keep digging.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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