Miami-Dade County

Miami Herald's 'Fight Club' series about juvenile prison abuses named Pulitzer finalist

Dark secrets of Florida’s juvenile justice system : A Miami Herald investigation

A look at the "fight club" culture inside Florida's juvenile justice system, where staffers sometimes employ harsh takedowns, ignore abuse and offer snacks as bribes for beatdowns — known as "honey-bunning."
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A look at the "fight club" culture inside Florida's juvenile justice system, where staffers sometimes employ harsh takedowns, ignore abuse and offer snacks as bribes for beatdowns — known as "honey-bunning."

A Miami Herald investigative series that chronicled abuses in Florida's juvenile justice system and spurred legislative reform has received another prestigious nod — this time as a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the Investigative Reporting category.

"Fight Club," written by Carol Marbin Miller and Audra D .S. Burch, investigated 10 years of youth maltreatment in the state system, including beatings, cover-ups, sexual exploitation and medical neglect.

The Pulitzer website called the project "a sweeping investigation of Florida’s juvenile justice system, prompted by the tragic death of a foster child and told in heartbreaking detail, that spurred legislative reform intended to better protect that state's young charges."

The winner of the Pulitzer for Investigative reporting was the staff of the Washington Post for its "purposeful and relentless reporting that changed the course of a Senate race in Alabama by revealing a candidate’s alleged past sexual harassment of teenage girls and subsequent efforts to undermine the journalism that exposed it."

That candidate, Republican Roy Moore, was defeated by Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general appointed by President Donald Trump, had vacated the seat, resulting in the special election.

Tim Eberly, of the Virginian-Pilot, was also a finalist for his reporting that resulted in changes to Virginia's parole board system.

Previously, Fight Club was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, one of the country’s top journalism awards. Last week, Harvard University named Fight Club the winner of its Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism.

The Fight Club investigation was spurred by the beating death of 17-year-old Elord Revolte in August 2015. Elord was in a Miami-Dade juvenile lockup when close to a dozen detainees jumped the teen, who died the next day. Two youths in the lockup said the beating was instigated by a staff member. The series described a phenomenon called "honey bunning," where detainees were offered vending machine treats in exchange for beating up their peers.

The project, which included video and photos by Herald visual journalist Emily Michot, led the the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to improve its hiring practices and create an Office of Youth and Family Advocacy to investigate complaints.

The series received funding and support from the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

In March, Gov. Rick Scott signed a spending bill that included money to raise salaries for juvenile detention and probation officers for the first time in a decade. The governor also approved two measures meant to improve the system: one that allows surprise inspections at facilities and another that requires every judicial circuit in the state to implement a civil citation program. The citations divert first-time, non-serious offenders out of the juvenile justice system and into community service., among other things.

Marbin Miller was a 2012 Pulitzer finalist along with Michael Sallah and Rob Barry in the Public Service category for the Miami Herald series "Neglected to Death," which exposed the often fatal lack of oversight at assisted living facilities.

Last year, the Miami Herald, its parent company McClatchy and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists took home the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for its work on the Panama Papers, which through thousands of leaked documents exposed how crooks and the wealthy use the secret world of offshore companies to evade taxes and hide assets. The Herald also received a Pulitzer Prize last year for the political commentary of editorial cartoonist Jim Morin, his second Pulitzer.

Another McClatchy newspaper, the Kansas City Star, was named a Pulitzer finalist this year in the Public Service category for its series, "Why so secret, Kansas?" which examined the state government’s decades–long “obsession with secrecy.”