By Mary Hudetz, Reporter, the CJ Project and the Associated Press
The school-to-prison pipeline. Disparities in sentencing laws between drug crimes and white collar ones. And the impact of justice system policies on women and families.
These topics were among dozens put forward by a group of thoughtful New Mexico journalists on a recent Friday morning when asked what topics in the criminal justice system have remained undercovered in the state. The areas named on Post-it notes and put on a board for discussion were sweeping and broad, underscoring the reality that there are still vast subject areas that remain virtually untapped for coverage even as news outlets seem to ramp up coverage of crime and courts.
Other topics listed during the meeting of editors and reporters gathered to discuss collaboration on the new CJ Project, a journalism initiative aimed at helping to expand the narrative on every level of the justice system in New Mexico, included gaps in the federal and tribal court systems, human trafficking and the juvenile justice—an entire sector of the legal system that some in the group believed had hardly been touched by journalists in recent years.
The discussion—in a small, crowded classroom at the Department of Communication & Journalism at the University of New Mexico (UNM)—came at the end of a weeklong training organized by the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). AAJA is spearheading the CJ Project with Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) and the National Center on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD). UNM and a handful of local outlets represented at the meeting are also partners.
It was a welcome conversation as criminal justice reform has become a national focus, and New Mexico lawmakers have proposed and debated their own set of justice and criminal sentencing measures, some of them tough on crime and others more zeroed in on reform.
I’ve lived in the state since August 2015, writing daily and longer-term stories on everything from the goings on in the state’s court system to rolling out of policy changes in Indian Country. I still feel like a newcomer. But even in my short time here, it has become abundantly clear that there are so many stories— more than all the journalists in this beautiful and culturally diverse but cash-strapped state have the time or resources to spotlight with deep, transformative reporting.
That reality is one of the reasons why I’m now excited to be one of the reporters on the CJ Project, which offers a rare opportunity to take a step back from much of the still very important day-to-day coverage and take a broader look at the criminal justice system.
It also offers a chance, CJ Project editor Amy Linn has said, to revisit those short, daily stories that may have had a profound impact on us as journalists and raised more questions than answers, but came amid a whirl of news that gave us limited time to focus on these specific stories. These are the stories that may have hinted that a mine of powerful narratives were somewhere deep beneath the surface.
Now, after this month’s training that included data sessions with Investigative Reporters and Editors’ Jaimi Dowdell and others, our team is back to plunging into those stories, with a firmer grasp on how to find once seemingly elusive documents and records in a flash.