Skip to main content


April 13, 2021

Announcing the Winner of the 2021 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting

The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School is pleased to present the 2021 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting to:

Mississippi’s Dangerous and Dysfunctional Penal System

by Joseph Neff, Alysia Santo, Anna Wolfe, and Michelle Liu of The Marshall Project, Mississippi Today, Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, and USA TODAY Network.

About the winning investigative reporting project, and its impact:

Mississippi has America’s most dangerous and antiquated penal system – The Marshall Project and Mississippi Today uncovered why. Severe understaffing has made prisons so dangerous that even guards aren’t safe. The state is paying millions of dollars to private prisons for workers who don’t show up. And Mississippi is the only state still running debtors prisons, where people with mostly low-level convictions are sentenced to prison-like facilities to work off fines, court fees, and restitution. Residents in these “restitution centers” often stay longer than necessary to pay off their debts. Lawmakers have called for defunding the centers and turning them into halfway houses, and the Mississippi State Auditor issued a scathing report, saying “the state must fix this, and now.” He also launched an investigation into the tax dollars paid for ghost workers.

In awarding the 2021 Goldsmith Prize to the team behind “Mississippi’s Dangerous and Dysfunctional Penal System,” the judging committee noted their outstanding, deeply reported, data-backed storytelling, and the direct impact this series is having on public policy reforms in Mississippi. They celebrated how the reporters made policy failures real to readers by telling specific stories of individuals within the penal system. These stories gave faces and names to systemic failures, the reporting of which were backed up by cutting edge data journalism and dogged shoe-leather reporting. The series brings readers an understanding of what it’s like to be inside Mississippi’s troubled penal system. One judge noted that this series “shows in visceral terms why you can’t get ahead in a system like this.”

The 2021 Goldsmith Investigative Reporting Prize judges were: Audra Burch, Sarah Cohen, Mike Greenfield, John Huey, Nancy Kaffer, Sacha Pfeiffer, Bina Venkataraman, Todd Wallack, and Setti Warren. Nancy Gibbs, Director of the Shorenstein Center, chaired the meeting. Judges recused themselves from voting on entries from their employers.

The Goldsmith Awards ceremony tonight also honored Stephen Bates and John Maxwell Hamilton with Goldsmith Book Prizes and Stephen Engelberg with the Goldsmith Career Award.

Congratulations to all of the winners, as well as this year’s five Investigative Reporting Prize finalists. You can read more about the 2021 Goldsmith winners and finalists and watch a recording of the ceremony here.


Recent Announcements