October Newsletter: FIJ revamps, relaunches mentoring program

The Fund for Investigative Journalism has begun recruiting mentors as part of a revamped mentorship program aimed at providing grant recipients access to some of the country’s best investigative journalists. The relaunched program comes with the financial backing of the Scripps Howard Foundation, which recently gave FIJ $5,000.

The gift allows FIJ to offer its mentors modest honoraria for their yearlong commitment to the program. FIJ board member Mark Greenblatt, a member of the Scripps Washington bureau, is helping build FIJ’s stable of mentors.

Mentors will be paired with grant recipients who request a reporting coach during the normal application process.

The first batch of pairings will be made in the coming weeks.


Questions swirl in Indiana around validity of mental competency testimony

Psychologist Albert Fink at a court hearing in Gibson County, Ind. The doctor was charged with obstruction of justice after admitting he had faked court-ordered mental health examinations. Photo by AJ Casey for WNIN.

Steve Burger of WNIN public radio of Indiana delved into the background of a psychologist often hired as an expert court witness after the psychologist was convicted of felony charges for falsifying an evaluation in one case. Courts rely on psychologists to assess the mental fitness of defendants, but serious questions now swirl around how courts determine mental competency in Indiana and what system of oversight is in place to ensure defendants get a valid examination. The psychologist performed dozens of competency evaluations over the last 10 years before coming under scrutiny. Many of those evaluations are now under question. In fact, the chief public defender of the Indiana Supreme Court took the unusual step of reaching out to defendants to make them aware of the matter. As part of its ongoing investigation, WNIN uncovered a list of 29 cases in which falsified the evaluations are suspected.

In her latest package focusing on recidivism in America for USA Today, FIJ/Schuster Institute diversity fellow Lottie Joiner examined how women are faring in a criminal justice system designed with men in mind.

Candace Harp-Harlow has struggled to stay out of prison. Photo by Jarrad Henderson for USA Today.

Many of the programs that help inmates re-enter society aren’t appropriate for women, Joiner reports. Joiner’s most recent multimedia package focuses on the struggle by one woman, who has been in and out of custody since she was 12, to stay out of prison for good. Two previous installments began Joiner’s deep dive into re-entry programs, as part of USA Today’s ambitious “Policing the USA” project. Once an inmate is in the system, it’s hard for her to stay out; in fact, about 70 percent of female inmates return to the system within five years. 

Jeff Kelly Lowenstein has been leading reporters from across the globe in an investigation of the worldwide lottery industry. Partnering with about 40 people, including journalists from 10 countries, from North America to Europe and Africa, they discovered a massive industry, nearly $300 billion strong. Eight companies play an outsize role in lotteries around the world, operating in as many as 100 countries. Some of these companies have avoided hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and have sought to curry favor by hosting lavish parties. In the United States, he assembled a team from the Columbia Journalism School and PennLive as part of an ambitious reporting project to better understand how lotteries are gamed by some of their frequent players.