2022 Investigative & Public Service Reporting (Midsize Newsroom) Winners

Lily Altavena & Dave Boucher, Detroit Free Press

About the Winners:

Reporters Lily Altavena and Dave Boucher knew the broad topic of seclusion and restraint is one covered well by others in the past. But their investigation pushed beyond the underlying issues with the “barbaric” practices to examine systemic failures by the state to actually curb the controversial techniques while highlighting the recalcitrance of local leaders to provide public documents created to ensure the safety of children.

In collaboration with the University of Southern California’s Center for Health Journalism, Altavena and Boucher used closely held public records, deeply personal interviews from families affected by the actions of educators in power, revealing commentary from lawmakers wishing they had done more and a creative approach to publishing to best explore the impact of seclusion and restraint in Michigan schools. The reporting prompted immediate reaction: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislative leaders agreed improvements to state law are necessary.

Comments From the Judges:

“True accountability journalism, told with a deft human touch. The Free Press combined data with human-interest anecdotes to tell a compelling story about how overzealous use of restraining tactics can do lasting harm, centering the perspective of the affected kids themselves. Commendably, the reporters evaluated the (seemingly minimal) efficacy of highly touted 2016 reforms, and called out the legislators who refused to support them, identifying obvious shortcomings in the legislation that cry out for improvement.”

“Powerful example of returning to something and following up to see if anything actually changed. I applaud the centering of student voices — too often children, especially children with disabilities, are spoken for by adults and parents.”