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How the Prison Time Media Project was born

NCPR's Adirondack Bureau Chief Brian Mann is in Washington, DC for an awards ceremony tomorrow where reporting from NCPR's Prison Time Media Project will receive honors.

For more than a year Brian and Natasha Haverty have been digging deep into the culture of incarceration and fallout from the laws that launched the "war on drugs" back in the 1970s.

Brian talks with Todd Moe about how and why the project was started.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Todd Moe: Good morning, Brian. You’re there in Washington D.C. for tomorrow’s award ceremony and, first off, big congratulations.

Brian Mann: Yeah, thanks Todd. This has been kind of a remarkable experience to have this really locally created, locally funded project from the North Country recognized so prominently and a lot of that recognition has gone to Natasha Haverty, one of the lead producers of the series who just did some amazing work. So, it’s been really fun.

TM: So remind us a bit about the scope of the project.

BM: Yeah, well, really we wanted to understand what had happened here in New York forty years ago that caused then-governor Nelson Rockefeller to really redefine how crime and justice are thought about.

And what he did, of course, is he pushed through these laws that shifted the idea and the problem of drug abuse and addiction away from a medical and healthcare framework into a very aggressive police and prison framework.

Those decisions changed America, sent millions of people to prison; they affected everything from race relations to small town economies. So we wanted to tackle all of that.

TM: Right, and a part of that change happened here in the North Country.

BM: Yeah, it sure did, and that’s why this story was so important to North Country Public Radio. Back in the 1980s, especially, we saw a prison building boom here in our backyard to accommodate all those new inmates. We saw more than one prison being built every year in the North Country through that entire decade and really, prisons and jails became our biggest employment base.

So that really was at the heart of this project, trying to look at that and help communities think out loud about what that means and what it means for their future.

TM: Where does Prison Time goes next?

BM: I think we still do, actually, have a lot of work to do ahead to understand where our prison industry is going in the North Country. Two more prisons are slated to close just next month, so that’s a big, big deal to small towns like Chateauguay in Northern Franklin County, so we’ll be covering that. Also, big issues with county jail budgets and overcrowding.

And also, a big issue right now is a local corrections officer, Michael Powers from Riverview in Ogdensburg is vying to head State Corrections Officers Union. So you can see, there’s still a lot in play here, a lot of these issues we’ll be covering going forward.

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