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The Marshall Project brings Ohio journalism behind bars

A magazine issue, with a photo of a skyscraper, sits against a light blue background.
Illustration by Diana Nguyen for The Marshall Project and Photo by Glenna Gordon
The Marshall Project
The "Cleveland Focus" will ensure people inside Ohio's prisons can read stories about the communities they come from.

Starting this month, people inside Ohio’s prisons will get more access to local journalism on criminal justice.

The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal justice system, distributes its magazine “News Inside” to correctional institutions across the country. In Ohio, it’s adding a local news insert called “Cleveland Focus” that will cover everything from bail reform in Cuyahoga County to analysis of sentence reductions in the state.

And while the stories are reported from Cleveland, they’ll be circulated into 44 facilities across Ohio – all of its state prisons, nine county jails, four private prisons and three juvenile facilities – three times a month.

Louis Fields, outreach manager, said the stories and investigations not only serve as a bridge to the outside world, they show incarcerated individuals that their stories are worthy of coverage.

“It’s tied to who you are as a human being. We all need to be connected. We all need to be heard,” he said.

Limited access

While many of Ohio’s prisons have tablets with access to national news, Fields said there’s few avenues for reading local news while incarcerated. For many, that means not being able to stay up to date with what’s happening in their local communities.

“You care about where you come from,” Fields said. “If I’m from Cuyahoga County and I’m in a prison that’s two, three hours away, I want to hear about things that are affecting my county, where my family lives, where the people that I care about live. And also, if I’m fighting for my freedom, where the courts are making decisions in my local jurisdiction.”

Fields said The Marshall Project is also working to ensure that the magazine is serving the needs of people inside prison. Reporters from the publication recently toured Grafton Correctional Institution in Lorain County to ask the men in the facility what topics matter most to them.

The publication’s investigations also work to hold institutions within the criminal justice system accountable.

“If there’s injustice going on and I need help and I don’t have the power, I need someone to step in. The Marshall Project provides that intervention,” Fields said.

A ‘game changer’

Fields spent 23 years of his life inside Ohio’s prisons. He said if he were to have access to The Marshall Project’s Ohio-based stories and investigations, it would have been transformational for him.

“It would have moved me so much faster and so much closer to me becoming the person I wanted to be,” he said. “Prison separates you from society. So The Marshall Project … it’s like breath to a man that has asthma.”

The local coverage also has the potential to help prepare incarcerated individuals to reenter society. Field said it’s imperative that people in prison are able to stay informed, so when they are released into the world, they have the knowledge and resources to reintegrate into their communities.

“When you do 23 years, you miss a lot,” Fields said. “So when you return back to society, you want to be timely … to be effective and to be able to be useful in society.”

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.