Through the generosity of the Vital Projects Fund, Solitary Watch is accepting proposals for small grants to journalists working in all media, with the goal of expanding public awareness and understanding of solitary confinement in U.S. federal and state prisons, local and tribal jails, immigration detention centers, and juvenile justice facilities. Grants amounts will range from $1,000 to $5,000, and proposals must be submitted no later than January 31, 2019, for projects that will be completed by the end of 2019.
While it contains more than two million people—a population larger than all but four U.S. cities—the American carceral system has been kept largely off-limits to the public and the press. Solitary confinement, which functions as a prison within a prison, has been even more difficult to access. Despite an increase in media attention to solitary confinement over the past decade, recent polling shows that most Americans still lack the knowledge needed to make informed choices about this widespread and controversial practice.
Solitary Watch is looking for stories that have yet to be told about all aspects of solitary confinement, with a national, state, local, or thematic focus, in all media. Topics and approaches can include, but are not in any way limited to:
• Data-based stories and data visualizations that provide new insights on the use or impact of solitary.
• Work that draws on the lived experience of people in solitary confinement, solitary survivors, and their families and communities, as well as of staff working in solitary confinement units.
• Stories that look at alternatives to solitary or at alternate solutions to the problems solitary purports to solve.
• Analyses of the political context or political fallout of the use of solitary, for example as an issue in local elections.
• Investigations of rural and suburban jails and detention centers that are run with even less oversight than prisons.
In addition to written work, we welcome short video and audio pieces, photography, and graphic narratives. Proposals may be submitted by individual reporters and teams, and also by small newsrooms (especially nonprofit newsrooms) who may need additional support to undertake this subject. We encourage proposals from journalists working in local areas where solitary has received little coverage. We also encourage incarcerated and formerly incarcerated journalists to apply.
Projects to receive grants will be chosen by two veteran journalists:
Wilbert Rideau won renown as a prison journalist and editor of the magazine The Angolite during 25 of his 44 years in custody at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. He received a George Polk Award, a Sidney Hillman Prize, and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. He is the author of the autobiography In the Place of Justice, and has collaborated on radio and film documentaries.
James Ridgeway, Solitary Watch’s founder and co-director, is an investigative reporter with more than 50 years of experience at the Village Voice, New Republic, and Mother Jones. He is the author or co-author of 20 books and co-director of two documentary films, and he received a Soros Justice Media Fellowship and an Alicia Patterson Fellowship for his recent reporting on prisons.