In a review of disciplinary actions at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, an investigation by the Houston Chronicle found a pattern of inmate brutalization, as well as abuse of authority and attempted cover-ups by jail guards. Court records show jailers seldom faced criminal charges even in cases where they used excessive force. The findings follow a June 2009 report by the Justice Department, which concluded after its own yearlong investigation that inmates’ constitutional protections had been violated by excessive violence and by substandard medical care that led to an “alarming” number of prisoner deaths. The Justice Department has taken no public action since then despite what records show are similar instances of unreported beatings, inmate deaths and medical neglect.
For the first part of this project, Lauren assisted with reviewing and logging more than 1,000 disciplinary records into a database, and supported the investigation with research and reporting.
For the second installment, Lauren reviewed nearly 60 autopsies and delved extensively into court records to build a database of the 75 in-custody deaths at the Harris County Jail from 2009 to mid-2015.
- Part 1: Jailhouse jeopardy: Guards often brutalize and neglect inmates in Harris County Jail, records show by Chronicle reporters Anita Hassan and Jim Pinkerton.
- Part 2: Harris County Jail considered ‘unsafe and unhealthy’ for inmates, public by James Pinkerton, Anita Hassan & Lauren Caruba
- Part 3: Calls for training, better cell checks follow Harris County Jail suicides by St. John Barned-Smith
- Part 4: Inmates accused, charged despite workers’ own misconduct by Anita Hassan
- Part 5: Tough bail policies punish the poor and the sick, critics say by James Pinkerton & Lauren Caruba
- Part 6: Wife wonders why man taken to jail, not hospital, after crash by Anita Hassan
Read the full Jailhouse Jeopardy series.
From June 2013 to August 2014, Lauren worked on and off for Medill Watchdog, a public accountability and investigative journalism project formerly associated with Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Overseen by Medill Watchdog director Rick Tulsky, a Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist, Lauren worked with a team of interns on Harsh Treatment, a year-long, national examination of residential treatment centers serving troubled youth. As part of the project, Lauren completed a five-day reporting trip to Michigan during the summer of 2013 and a three-day reporting trip to Ohio during the summer of 2014. The investigation relied on extensive public records requests and documents, interviews, original reporting, and data sets. The Harsh Treatment project was conducted in collaboration with the Chicago Tribune, with Medill Watchdog focusing on the national issue and the Tribune localizing the issue to Illinois.
Links to the investigations:
- Medill Watchdog’s Harsh Treatment project and background on the investigation
- Chicago Tribune’s Harsh Treatment series
- Medill Watchdog/Chicago Tribune joint story on the national perspective
In March 2015, Medill Watchdog’s work won for Online In-Depth Reporting in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Region 5 Mark of Excellence Awards. The Tribune’s stories resulted in the closing of a troubled residential center in Rockford where many young girls participated in a prostitution ring, the resignation of the director of the Department of Children and Family Services in Illinois, and possible Justice Department intervention into the state’s violent youth centers. The Tribune series was also named a Pulitzer Prize finalist for investigative reporting and was nominated for the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Awards for Investigative Reporting.
Medill Watchdog Podcast
In May 2014, Lauren researched a podcast for Medill Watchdog about how media organizations handle online comment sections. In “Care to Comment?” she focused on how online “trolls” have challenged news outlets to improve their moderation of comments.