Apri 8, 2011
Emerson Brown, NPR




NPR News is being honored with a 2010 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for a two-part series exposing how the prison industry helped shape controversial immigration legislation in Arizona, and had two additional investigative series named as finalists, it was announced today. Reported by NPR Correspondent Laura Sullivan, "Prison Profiting: Behind Arizona’s Immigration Law" detailed gatherings that bring together state legislators with representatives of powerful corporations and associations, and how one organization facilitates the shaping of state laws with little scrutiny. The series aired in October 2010 on the NPR newsmagazine Morning Edition, and is available online at npr.org.

Spending months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records, Sullivan discovered a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by the industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry. The series explored the creation of the law which could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison, and also bring hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them. In two reports, Sullivan revealed how Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce discussed the idea for the bill with a membership organization of state legislators and powerful corporations and associations – including the largest private prison company in the country – called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the secretive way ALEC allows companies to author "model bills" with the state legislators. "Prison Profiting" was produced by Anne Hawke, and edited by Deputy Managing Editor of Investigations Susanne Reber and Senior National Editor Steven Drummond.

The judges praised the series by saying, "While most news outlets focused on the consequences of the bill that allowed police to lock up anyone they stop who cannot show proof of legal residency, NPR's investigation went behind the scenes. The judges thought NPR's decision to look at the law as a new business model made this entry the overwhelming winner in the category."

The IRE also named the NPR News Investigation Home or Nursing Home: America's Empty Promise to Give the Elderly and Disabled a Choice a finalist in the radio category. Brain Wars: How the Military is Failing the Wounded, an investigation from NPR News and ProPublica, was named a finalist in the digital category.

The annual IRE awards recognize outstanding investigative work in print, broadcast, online media and work that demonstrates superior use of freedom of information and open records laws. IRE, founded in 1975, is a nonprofit professional organization dedicated to training and supporting investigative journalists. It is based at the Missouri School of Journalism. More information is available at the IRE website.