Covering Jails: A free two-day intensive workshop for journalists

A Journalist's Guide to Covering Jails

May 7, 2018
Teaching Date
June 21-22, 2018
Columbus, OH
Free for Selected Applicants

A Free Poynter Two-Day Intensive Journalism Workshop Held in Columbus, OH.

Local jails are the gateway to the U.S. justice system. They are overloaded, overused and, while they were intended to house people who were deemed to be a societal danger or a flight risk before trial, they have become warehouses, often for people who have not been convicted of a crime but cannot afford to bail themselves out. In some cities, jails are filled with people who suffer from addictions and mental illness.

This intensive two-day workshop will focus on understanding the causes and consequences of local jail incarceration and some ways that communities are addressing the issues. The Poynter Institute is partnering with the The Marshall Project and the Vera Institute of Justice. The workshop is supported by the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge. The workshop will be led by Al Tompkins, The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcast and online. This New York workshop is the first of four across the country. The other locations will be Salt Lake City, Utah, Columbus, Ohio and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Our experts and experienced journalists will help reporters find engaging stories and reliable data. The workshop will be practical, non-political and we hope will lead to aggressive and thoughtful coverage of this under-covered but vitally important topic.


  • Profile picture for user atompkins

    Al Tompkins

    Senior Faculty, Broadcast and Online

    The Poynter Institute

Four Workshops Around the Country

We will take our workshop on the road to four cities to make it easier for journalists to get to us. Each location gives us the opportunity to include local experts and focus on unique issues. In Oklahoma City, for example, the Chamber of Commerce became involved in reforming jails because the burden of the jail system was taxing local government.

Apply for only one workshop. If there is an overwhelming reason that you want one location/date over another, let us know in your application, and we will do the best we can to get you the training you want.

The Cities/Dates:

  1. New York City, New York: March 27-28, 2018 (closed)
  2. Salt Lake City, Utah: April 11-12, 2018 (closed)
  3. Columbus, Ohio: June 21-22, 2018 (closed)
  4. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: August 1-2, 2018 (Apply Here)/Apply by: May 23


Sample Schedule:

Day One

9:00-9:15 a.m.: Goals and introductions

9:15-10:30 a.m.: The Pathway to Jail: Who's in?/Why? (Nancy Fishman, Vera Institute)

10:30-10:45 a.m.: Break

10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: Incarceration Trends: rural and small, big and metro,

juveniles and women and the immigration impact

12:15-1:45 p.m.: Lunch/The Opioid Crisis in jail

1:45-2:00 p.m.: Break

2:00-3:30 p.m.: Sorting through the Data to Find the Stories (Tom Meagher, The Marshall Project)

3:30-3:45 p.m.: Break

3:45-5:15 p.m.: Lost: Immigrants in Jail (Julia Preston, The Marshall Project)

Day Two

9:00-10:15 a.m.: Pathways out of Jail: Seeking alternatives (Vera Institute of Justice)

10:15-10:30 a.m.: Break

10:30 a.m.-Noon: How to approach enterprise reporting on jails. Coming up with projects that people will watch/read/listen to/share. (Kirsten Danis, The Marshall Project)

12:00-1 p.m.: Lunch

1:00-2:15 p.m.: Participants share their story ideas

2:15-2:30 p.m.: Closing thoughts/Workshop Concludes


Who Should Apply/The Selection Process:

The workshop is open to professional journalists of all descriptions in the United States. This includes reports who cover criminal justice, assignment editors, government reporters, general assignment, health (mental health), photojournalists and editors. We will look for a rich mix of applications from various media, market size and years of experience.

We will receive far more applications than we can accommodate for these programs. Our goal is to be as diverse as possible: job title, market size, big cities, rural areas, ethnicity, etc. Apply as soon as you know this learning would benefit your coverage and can get the time away to attend. If you are a good fit for the program and we can't offer you a seat for your preferred city, we will make an attempt to move you to another city.



Thanks to a grant from The MacArthur Foundation, tuition, hotel costs and most meals will be covered for those whose applications are accepted.

You or your organization cover the flights/transportation. We have limited flight funding for hardship cases.

Logistical Details/What is Covered:

Poynter, through a grant from The MacArthur Foundation, will pay tuition, hotel and some meals for the participants. We will also save seats for local journalists to attend in each city. We have limited flight funding for hardship cases.

Specific details will be sent to those chosen to attend the seminar.

Please commit to attending the entire seminar, participating and taking your knowledge back to your newsroom, using it in your reporting and teaching others what you learn.

These workshops will fill quickly, so don’t miss this opportunity! Without a doubt, we will have many more applicants than we will have seats, so we will choose a diverse range of media, market size and geographic location.



sponsor logos



Questions or need more information? E-mail

Email IconGroup 3Facebook IconLinkedIn IconsearchGroupTwitter IconGroup 2YouTube Icon