Investigating Jails


Investigating Jails

Learn the investigative reporting skills that will enable you to dig into your local jail.

Start Anytime


SKU: NUSDT44-19 Category: Tag:


Training five or more people?
Check out our custom training.

This course is organized into three, one-hour lessons each centered on an area of great importance in covering jails: mental illness, financial injustice and mistreatment. Each lesson features one or two journalism projects as a driving vehicle for learning, breaking down the reporting process for each with the help of the journalist behind the piece.

While delving into these topics, you’ll learn investigative reporting skills you can apply to any coverage area. They include: starting off right by understanding the landscape; using lessons learned from a single death to begin identifying problems across entire systems; knowing what documents exist and how to get them; building and maintaining sources; making the most out of interviews; and holding officials accountable so that your stories make an impact.

Course learning outcomes

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  1. Describe and explain why and how so many mentally ill people end up in jail.
  2. Examine adverse incidents that affect jail inmates.
  3. Recognize and apply investigative methods to identify systemic patterns.
  4. Conduct an investigation into who is financially winning and who is financially
    losing in your jail.
  5. Use effective reporting strategies enabling you to gain deep access to jails to
    uncover mistreatment.


Alexandra Zayas navigates complicated, potentially contentious stories every day as a senior editor at ProPublica. She edited part of a series about MS-13 that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing and has overseen high-impact work on immigration, international aid and social services. She spent 12 years at the Tampa Bay Times, ultimately serving as the newspaper’s enterprise editor. As a reporter, her investigation into abuse at unlicensed religious children’s homes across Florida won the 2013 Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting, the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

Course sponsor

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including advancing global climate solutions, decreasing nuclear risk, promoting local justice reform in the U.S., and reducing corruption in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program and the global 100&Change competition, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsive democracy as well as the vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago.