NECIR reporters honored for jail suicide investigation

An investigation into the alarmingly high rate of county jail suicides earned the New England Center for Investigative Reporting its fourth consecutive Publick Occurrences award Thursday from the New England Newspaper and Press Association.

Reporters Jenifer McKim and Shaz Sajadi accepted the award for “They Left Him Everything to Hang Himself,” a front page story published in May in the Boston Sunday Globe.

The investigation revealed that at least 42 men and women died by suicide in Massachusetts’ county jails since 2012, more than twice the number of suicides in the state prison system over the period even though both house roughly the same number of inmates. While state prison suicides have declined in recent years, the rate of suicides in the state’s 13 county jails has doubled.

Many of the people who killed themselves, the story explained, did so before they were even sentenced to a crime and some despite explicit warnings to officials that they were intent on harming themselves.

NECIR reporters collected the data from county jails and examined details currently not scrutinized by state regulators.

The article was part of a reporting project that included four radio reports by NECIR Reporter Chris Burrell for WGBH public radio as well as multimedia timelines and graphics published online.

The award was presented during the New England Newspaper Conference, when NENPA honors the year’s best journalism produced by New England newspapers. The award was established in 1990 to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of Publick Occurrences, the first newspaper published in America.

This is McKim’s fourth consecutive Publick Occurrences Award and Sajadi’s first. Sajadi first started collecting data for the investigation as an NECIR intern and returned to see the story published in the Boston Globe. She is now a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

NECIR is a nonprofit center at Boston University seeking to expose injustice by both producing and teaching in-depth, impactful journalism. Learn more at: www.necir.org.