Nearly 1 in 100 Americans is incarcerated. But how well can journalists cover prisons if they can’t get past the gates?
When Rob Wildeboer, a criminal-and-legal-affairs reporter for public radio WBEZ in Chicago, read a report from a local watchdog group about conditions in Illinois state prisons, he was taken aback: “The stuff that they were saying—if true—was just horrendous.” The report, and his own follow-up reporting, revealed vermin infestations so severe that a cockroach had to be surgically removed from a man’s ear. Hundreds of bored and restless inmates—some serving time for nothing more than driving on a revoked license—crowded dormitory-style into dank, flooded basements. Six hundred men sharing seven toilets. So Wildeboer did what any good journalist would do: He asked to see for himself. “I expected we’d get in, to be honest,” he says.
Instead, he found himself at the center of a…
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