Knock LA’s Incarceration Reporting Initiative

A piece of art depicting a man behind a barbed wire fence. A kite floats over the barbed wire. Knock LA Incarceration Reporting Initiative

The Incarceration Reporting Initiative

LA is the most jailed place on earth, and the county is currently spending a billion dollars a year to keep it that way.

In September of this year, a UN Human Rights Council delegation — observing that “​​the majority of the 2400 men held in the LA Twin Towers facility … suffered from a mental health condition or psychosocial disability” — reached the simple conclusion that so many elected officials are unwilling to address: incarceration is “incompatible with a therapeutic mission.” 

Not only is it not therapeutic, for many it is deadly: so far in 2023, 40 people have died in LA County jails.   

Meanwhile, roughly 100,000 human beings are hidden away in cages throughout California’s 32 state prisons. Some 40,000 of them are Angelenos, most of whom are sent to other counties — to serve their time far away from their families. 

South Central LA has some of the highest rates of incarceration in the state; as of 2020, Compton had an imprisonment rate of 980 per 100,000 residents — more than three times the average rate in California. 

Despite many people having been released from prison during the height of the COVID pandemic, most prisons in the state remain beyond capacity.

(SOURCE: CURB / People’s Plan for Prison Closure)

…Beyond these basic facts, there is much more to be learned about life behind bars in California. So why does press coverage seem to end wherever prison walls begin?

“Prison walls,” writes Victoria Law, “are designed to keep people — and information — from getting out.”  

To circumvent those walls, Knock LA — in partnership with Empowerment Avenue, CURB, and Initiate Justice — is connecting with people on the inside to help bring their stories out of the shadows.

In an effort to better understand the human geography of incarceration in our region, we have been in conversation with the Institute to End Mass Incarceration (publishers of Inquest); the Youth Justice Coalition; the Sacramento Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee; the Prison Journalism Project; and Interrupting Criminalization

We’ve also assembled an advisory group to help us steer our coverage going forward. Maya Schenwar is the founder of the Truthout Center for Grassroots Journalism and the author of several books related to incarceration. Emile DeWeaver is a formerly incarcerated activist and Soros Justice Fellow who helped pass CA Proposition 57. Romarilyn Ralston, also formerly incarcerated, is the Executive Director of Project Rebound and an organizer with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.

Don’t let these stories remain hidden. Bookmark this page and sign up for our weekly newsletter to stay updated on LA’s incarceration issues, and hear stories from our initiative.

If you have news to relay, or want to get involved, please get in touch. Contact us at email hidden; JavaScript is required today.

Check out the Incarceration Reporting Initiative archive here.

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