A little about myself: I’ve been covering criminal justice for much of my career, which began in newspapers. I spent a lot of that time in Newark, New Jersey, where I investigated street gangs, gun trafficking, the drug trade and botched murder cases. I also was on a politics team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. And I wrote a book about Newark, titled “A Chance to Win,” which was a finalist for a PEN Literary Award. Here at NBC News, I try to write about how criminal justice policy impacts people’s daily lives. That’s what drew me to Letcher County, Kentucky, where I wrote about the community’s hope to host a new federal prison as a way to make up for the loss of coal mining jobs. I’m here to talk about that story, but I’m also happy to discuss criminal justice issues more broadly.

Proof: https://twitter.com/jonschuppe/status/979442575995174912

Comments: 96 • Responses: 14  • Date: 

almondparfitt30 karma

Hi Jon, for people in these communities like Letcher County, how much does national policy conversations about criminal justice issues impact community convos/decision? Or is the issue fairly localized from their perspective? Thanks.

nbcnews35 karma

Great question, and thank you! Speaking from what I saw while reporting this story, this decision is driven by local concerns and needs. From the perspective of people who want to see the prison built, the project is all about jobs. That's not to say people aren't aware of the larger national conversations about imprisonment rates and reform efforts. But from their point of view, the need for people to work and support their families is far more of a priority.

prisonisariot30 karma

There is a high security federal prison sitting completely empty in Mississippi. I'm sure there are others that aren't full. Why are we building more? I suppose this is more rhetorical than anything. But the BOP budget has been cut. Jobs have been cut. They have random teachers and cooks acting as guards. This makes prisons less safe. Put that money into staffing the places they have.

nbcnews19 karma

Another excellent question. Short answer: it's complicated. It can be difficult to discern a single overarching theme that guides the government's moves on building and staffing prisons. Part of it has to do with changes in administration. Part of it has to do with political maneuvering. Part has to do with regional needs. And part has to do with the way the federal government measures prison populations. For instance, one of the arguments for building the prison in Letcher County - the project would actually be two prisons, one high security and one low - is that max security prisons remain over capacity. That is the argument made by the BOP staffers who have been working on developing the prison project, and it is one of the arguments made by Hal Rogers, the congressman who has backed funding for the project.

NatureGreenTreeStars14 karma

Hi Jon, thanks for doing this. Is the crime level in Appalachia such that a new prison would go a long way to helping the economy? Is there an actual need for a new federal jail due to lack of space or is it a case of "if you build it, we'll find some prisoners"?

nbcnews16 karma

Really good questions. 1. There isn't much direct link between federal prison-building policy and the crime levels in places where prisons are built. The people who are sent to a particular federal prison generally did not commit their offenses in the places where they serve their sentences of incarceration. The federal Bureau of Prisons considers the need for new prisons on a number of factors, including existing imprisonment rates, federal criminal justice policies, national crime rates, and whether the existing capacity is sufficient, particularly in a particular region. Most of the federal prisons in Appalachia are in the mid-Atlantic region. 2. The supporters of the prison, including the authors of the Bureau of Prisons' environmental impact study, make the case for the Letcher County prison by citing overcrowding in existing max security prisons, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region. The second part of your question is more a matter of perspective. Opponents of mass incarceration tend to believe that building more prisons justifies putting more in those prisons. But that assumes that prosecutors and judges are to some degree making decisions about charging and sentencing people based upon the availability of prison space. In the end it's the BOP that decides where to imprison people once they are sentenced.

Mango_Maniac1 karma

The majority of private prison contracts stipulate that the State has to keep a high percentage of those prison beds filled at all times.

Also, if this county’s residents view this proposed private prison as their only hope for employment/survival, how do you think the local district court judges will fair in their re-election campaigns if they develop a reputation for imprisoning fewer defendants? My guess is these judges would be received the way you’d expect of someone threatening the perceived livelihood of the voters, no?

Edit: My mistake on presuming this story was about a private prison. Your article provided an interesting look into communities that are often ignored and are desperate for economic stimulation, (though I wish the anti-prison faction within this community was given a larger voice in the article and not relegated to what is essentially a single quote in Part 4).

nbcnews1 karma

Hey, I should stress that the proposed prison in Letcher County would not be privately run. It would be run by the federal Bureau of Prisons. But the current administration is expanding its options with private prisons as well. A state's relationship with private prisons is separate, but with many more local questions, including those you raise here.

HFXmer12 karma

Have you ever been scared while covering a story?

nbcnews23 karma

Thanks for asking this. A lot of people ask me a version of this, mostly in regard to my work covering gun violence. The answer is no. (Nervous, yes.) I've never actually been in the line of fire, and I've rarely been threatened with violence while working. I have tremendous respect for colleagues who have covered riots and natural disasters that have led to a breakdown in order.

TrumpJuice10 karma

have you now or in the past been forced/persuaded to say anything similar to the sinclair scripts?

edit: have you written any scripts like the sinclair ones?

nbcnews9 karma

No, and no.

Chtorrr8 karma

What are your feelings on pineapple as a pizza topping?

nbcnews81 karma

I prefer plain, as the creator intended. We take our pizza seriously in New Jersey, and I don't know of any respectable parlor that offers pineapple as a topping. But I also believe people should be free to put whatever they want on their pizza within the privacy of their homes.

leshief7 karma

what is the best way to ensure that a story makes it to the right people inside NBC news?

nbcnews7 karma

Your best bet, generally, is here: https://www.nbcnews.com/tips . If you read NBCNews.com frequently, you may encounter writers who specialize in the topic you're interested in communicating about. It's generally not difficult to find a way to reach them through social media or email.

PaperJournal3 karma

Hi Jon, interesting article! This question is a bit unrelated, but how do you feel about felons and voting rights? I've been following that topic for a while in a variety of different states and feel like it might apply to your work. Is this something you have any strong opinions on, or want to look into since it stems from criminal justice policy?

nbcnews1 karma

I don't have strong opinions on the matter, but we are covering the issue of felons and voting rights quote a bit here at NBCNews.com. My colleague Jane Timm has been doing a lot of work on the subject, and I encourage you to read her stuff.

DatPangwin3 karma

I never thought I’d see the community I live in mentioned on any social media’s front page. Here I am taking a shit and I see it on Reddit.

As for my question, Jon what did you think of our county? As someone who lives here I will say that the prison does give some hope to change things around here, but I was more wondering of your personal views of the area. Did anything shock you or anything like that? Thanks.

nbcnews1 karma

Hey, thanks for tuning in! I'd never been to eastern Kentucky before working on this story, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I was treated warmly by everyone I met, and was left with a positive impression of the people, which was not a surprise. I also was struck by a genuine and sincere belief in the prison among most people I spoke to, because of the dire need for jobs. Even the opponents I spoke to understood that.

bigoted_bill2 karma

Hi Jon, can you please clarify what a new writer does and what your day to day is like?

nbcnews11 karma

I can tell you what I do: I'm a writer for NBC News digital, meaning I write for the website; I don't write television scripts. I have a beat, criminal justice, and I spend each day keeping up with stories and issues of national importance, and writing articles that we believe we can add to people's understanding of those stories and issues. Some are written in a matter of hours, others days, others weeks or months.

RobotWizardz1 karma

Whats your favourite TV Show?

nbcnews7 karma

I don't watch as much as I'd like - or to share a favorite. I'm open to suggestions.

chomskystool3 karma

If you've not seen "The Wire", you may like it. It is a brutal look at the criminal justice/political system. If you have seen it, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the "Hamster-dam" season, I believe season 4.

nbcnews10 karma

I should amend my response: I was a huge fan of The Wire, watched every episode multiple times. All time, definitely my favorite. Hamsterdam was from season three, if I recall correctly. Season three was the best, I think. As for the Hamsterdam episode, Bunny's going rogue was an effective tool to discuss the plausibility of drug decriminalization, but it was also totally unrealistic.

djdunkinflonuts0 karma

How much cake do you think you could eat in a single sitting, hypothetically?

nbcnews1 karma

There are so many variables, but generally I'd say half a cake.