New York Times reporter Sam Dolnick has won the 2012 Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism for his three-part series Unlocked: Inside New Jersey’s Halfway Houses. During a lengthy investigation of New Jersey’s privately run halfway houses, Dolnick discovered a broken and horribly flawed correctional system in which gang activity, drug use, sexual assaults and other violent behavior were commonplace and where lax security led to hundreds of annual escapes. The series also exposed the close ties between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Community Education Centers, the company that runs many of the state’s halfway houses.
“Unlocked” prompted calls for change and led to hearings in both houses of New Jersey’s state legislature, resulting in the introduction of 14 reform bills. The series is a cautionary tale for states across the country looking to privatize their own prison systems.