Fresno Bee, McClatchy news sites partner with ProPublica to investigate local jails

In January 2017, a naked 36-year-old man with schizophrenia was restrained in a holding cell at the San Luis Obispo County jail for nearly 48 hours before he fell to the floor, lost consciousness and died.

The San Luis Obispo Tribune, one of McClatchy’s five California publications, launched an investigative campaign that examined more than 100 hours of surveillance video by March 2018, leading the Tribune to conclude that the true circumstances of Andrew Holland’s death differed from the account provided by the county Sheriff’s Office.

Tragic stories like this are common in California. Though corrections reform under Gov. Jerry Brown has eased overcrowding of the state prisons, inmate deaths like Holland’s have prompted an important question: Are our local governments equipped to handle violence and mental illness in county jails?

Next year, McClatchy will explore that topic in-depth. We won’t be doing it alone.

McClatchy’s five California publications — The Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee, Modesto Bee, Merced Sun-Star and San Luis Obispo Tribune — are joining a collaborative effort with ProPublica to launch a yearlong investigative project into California corrections.

State statistics show those five regions are among the state’s worst offenders for county jail inmate deaths.

With a new two-year legislative session about to begin, and a $16 billion general fund surplus, now is an ideal time for a close analysis of local jails, their resources and how they’re using them.

Next month, The Sacramento Bee will welcome reporter Jason Pohl to help usher in this new endeavor.

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Pohl has covered public safety, breaking news, local government, criminal justice, mental health, substance abuse and law enforcement extensively since 2012, most recently with the Arizona Republic. He is also a 2016 National Press Foundation Mental Health Fellow and a trained emergency medical technician.

This upcoming project will be filled with collaboration and new ideas. We plan to provide not only traditional digital and print story coverage, but also virtual reality experiences that will give the public a chance to feel what it’s like to sit in a jail cell.

ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom focusing on investigative journalism, recently awarded McClatchy with a one-year grant to complete this work. It is one of 14 that the nonprofit has awarded for reporting in 2019.

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