Jan. 29, 2024  

Stars behind bars

SPJ and PJP launch the Stillwater Awards.

By Michael Koretzky

According to the Prison Journalism Project, 24 prison newspapers regularly publish in 12 states. Sadly, no one recognizes their work. Happily, SPJ and PJP will start this week.

We’re collaborating on the Stillwater Awards. Best we can tell, they’re the only awards for incarcerated journalists. But they weren’t the first.

Prison newspapers have been published since 1800, but it took more than a century and a half before anyone recognized their work. In 1965, Southern Illinois University launched the annual Penal Press Awards. They lasted until 1990, when prison newspapers started to dwindle. By 1998, only six remained.

But according to PJP’s Prison Newspaper Project, that number has been growing ever since – although no one knows why.

“Our understanding is that prison newspapers dwindled to half a dozen, in part as the prison legal system became more punitive,” explains PJP co-founder and CEO Yukari Kane. “We don’t know why exactly publications are rebounding, but we believe there are a few reasons.”

Among those reasons: More “organizations outside that are helping to support journalism inside” and an “increase in interest from outside media organizations in prison journalism.”

SPJ is one of those organizations. In 2021, SPJ and PJP joined forces to create a “virtual chapter” inside the San Quentin Rehabilitation Center in northern California.

Setting up that chapter has proven easier than establishing a successor to the Penal Press Awards.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if…’ But it’s totally another to actually execute a program like this,” says Mike Anguille, the director of the Stillwater Awards. “Yukari and her team have been absolutely instrumental in getting these awards up and running. Without their knowledge, resources, and guidance, we’d never have made it past the concept stage.”

The concept is simple: Launch an awards program that costs nothing to enter, is judged by professional journalists, and all winners receive a free SPJ membership.

The Stillwater Awards are open now and close March 31. Learn more here.