Solitary Watch is accepting proposals for grants to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated journalists, with the goal of expanding public awareness and understanding of solitary confinement and other dangerous or inhumane conditions of confinement in U.S. federal and state prisons, local and tribal jails, immigration detention centers, and juvenile facilities. Through the generosity of the Vital Projects Fund and the James Ridgeway Memorial Fund, Solitary Watch will be awarding grants ranging from $500 to $2,500. (Please see below for deadlines and application instructions. A print-friendly version of the description and instructions is available.)
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. Barbaric and unconstitutional living conditions, deadly neglect, and routine brutality are widespread, yet receive minimal attention. Solitary confinement, which functions as a prison within a prison, has been particularly difficult to access.
Although prisons and jails operate in the name of the public and for its alleged protection, most Americans lack the knowledge needed to understand and take an informed stand on the horrific conditions in which people are locked up.
Solitary Watch is looking for stories that have yet to be told about all aspects of solitary confinement and carceral conditions, including but not limited to working conditions and wages; living conditions such as food quality, temperature, and exposure to environmental dangers; availability of programming and educational opportunities; availability and effectiveness of medical and mental health care; difficulties of maintaining family connections; prevalence of physical and psychological abuse; and the impact of racism at all levels, as well as discrimination against people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals, prison organizers, and others. The barriers that prison conditions pose to successful re-entry, parole, and decarceration are also of interest.
These stories may have a national, state, local, or thematic focus. Topics and approaches can include, but are not in any way limited to:
- Data-based stories and data visualizations that provide new insights.
- Work that draws on the lived experience of incarcerated people and their families and communities.
- Stories that look at alternate solutions to the problems the criminal punishment system purports to solve.
- Analyses of the political context or political fallout of the use of solitary and other prison conditions, for example as an issue in local elections.
- Investigations of rural and suburban jails and of detention centers, which are run with even less oversight than prisons.
In addition to written work, we welcome short video and audio pieces, photography, and graphic narratives. While we are looking primarily for reported pieces, we will also consider op-eds and commentaries, as well as personal essays and “day-in-the-life” stories, as long as they are fact-based and point to broader issues.
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—as long as at least one member of the team is incarcerated or formerly incarcerated. We encourage proposals from journalists working in local areas where these types of stories receive little coverage.
Projects to receive grants will be chosen by award-winning prison journalist Juan Moreno Haines, senior editor of the San Quentin News and a senior contributing writer and editor at Solitary Watch, in collaboration with Katie Rose Quandt and Jean Casella of Solitary Watch. Support with editing and placing stories in publications will be provided by Solitary Watch, as will assistance to incarcerated reporters seeking data and other research materials not available in prison.
The grant program is named for James Ridgeway (1936-2021), veteran investigative reporter and founder of Solitary Watch. His New York Times obituary described Ridgeway as a muckraking journalist who “attacked malfeasance and skulduggery in American life with a passion” for more than sixty years, and noted: “His longest and most fervent crusade was his last: a decade-long effort, in what might otherwise have been his retirement years, against solitary confinement.”
Application Instructions for Grants from the Ridgeway Reporting Project
DEADLINE: Applications must be received no later than January 15, 2023 (earlier applications are welcome!)
Currently incarcerated journalists may submit their applications via a contact on the outside, or may send their typed or handwritten application materials to the following address. (Please allow extra time for delays in prison mail.) Ridgeway Reporting Project, Solitary Watch, PO Box 11374, Washington, DC 20008.
Others should send their materials by email as Word or PDF attachments to email@example.com.
Please send only the following materials
1. A proposal including:
- Name(s) of reporter(s)
- Mailing address and/or email and phone number
- Grant amount requested
- Medium and length of proposed project
- Up to 750 words describing your project and reporting plans
- Ideas for possible media outlets to which your project can be pitched
- A list of any anticipated reporting expenses
- A professional biography of up to 300 words
2. One to two work samples, preferably published
Grant recipients will be notified and announced by May 2023. Recipients will be asked to provide first drafts of their work to Solitary Watch for (non-binding) feedback. Funded projects should be completed by the end of 2023.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to review your proposal.
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A Note to Readers: Our late founder, James Ridgeway (1936-2021), was at the heart of Solitary Watch’s dedication to the voices of incarcerated people—as sources, as writers in our Voices from Solitary series, and most recently, as journalists reporting from inside prison walls. After Jim’s unexpected passing, Solitary Watch created the James Ridgeway Memorial Fund.
To support this work, which was so close to Jim’s heart, please consider donating to the fund. To make an online donation, please go to solitarywatch.org/donate and designate your donation for the Ridgeway Fund. To donate by check, please make your check payable to Social & Environmental Entrepreneurs and indicate “Solitary Watch/Ridgeway Fund” in the memo. Send to: SEE, 23564 Calabasas Road, Suite 201, Calabasas, CA 91302. All donations are fully tax-deductible. Thank you for your caring and generosity.