Prison Journalism Navigator

Prison Journalism Project’s vision is to help create a national network of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated correspondents, who can report on news, stories and lived experiences from inside and around prison for mainstream media. 

Over the past two years, our writers have reported on COVID-19 outbreaks, collected reactions to Derek Chauvin’s conviction over his murder of George Floyd, and written about other aspects of prison life. 

We think there’s potential for so much more. Prison writers can contribute perspectives, reactions and lived experiences to a story about a new criminal justice policy. They can make new research reports and data findings come alive through their lived experiences. They can report on news and happenings inside prison that might impact the local community. They can provide the prison perspective on stories about hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters. The possibilities are endless. 

The more we do this work, the more we know that writers and journalists inside have the potential to contribute deep, meaningful reporting and perspectives that can enrich mainstream coverage. However, we also know that working with incarcerated writers can be logistically challenging especially if you have never done so before. 

This navigator is designed to share the tools we’ve built and the practical learnings we’ve accumulated. 

The sections below are just a starting point. We plan to continue to add to this toolkit, as we identify new needs and as we continue to learn from experience.


A Reporter’s Glossary of Prison Jargon

Prisons are communities rife with code, shorthand and jargon, and writers might use those words without precisely explaining what they mean. This compilation of the most common words was sourced from 15 incarcerated and formerly incarcerated writers and contributors in 10 states across the country.

Legal Terminology

The language of the law is complicated. PJP compiled this glossary, mainly for our own editors as a quick reference guide to terms we commonly come across. We hope it can be useful to other journalists and newsrooms, who may see these words in their reporting or in books and articles by incarcerated writers. 

A man points to a map of the United States to indicate the different laws around prison journalism

Laws Around Prison Journalism

While broad freedoms protect members of the mainstream press, the same cannot be said about incarcerated journalists. PJP has assembled a state-by-state guide on relevant rules and regulations that might impact incarcerated people’s rights to do journalism and be compensated for it.

Incarceration Data and Other Resources

A few sources and reports that we rely on to help add context to our writers’ stories.

Communicating With Prison Journalists

A practical overview on how you can connect with people who are incarcerated.

Contacting People by State

A state-by-state guide with the rules and restrictions specific to the state. The focus is on correspondence-related rules because it has the most restrictions, but we also provide the names of the designated service providers for email and telephone.

Language Around Incarceration

This section outlines why PJP recommends using the person’s name or describing them as “a person who is incarcerated,” “a person behind bars” or “individual.”

Working With Communities of Color

Reporting on incarcerated communities of color is tricky because so much of prison life revolves around race. This section offers suggestions for how journalists and newsrooms can publish stories around incarceration without perpetuating racial prejudice and fear.

Safety of Writers

This section present 10 principals of conduct when working with incarcerated writers, who are vulnerable to reprisal.

Safety of Staff

Our work has forced us to confront the uncomfortable reality that we can never know our 100s of writers just through their stories. This section shares some of the policies PJP has implemented to keep our staff safe.

Send Us a Suggestion

Send us your thoughts and contributions to help us continue to improve the toolkit.