Reckon and AL.com will produce a documentary about the criminalization of poverty thanks to a grant from the Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights at the Columbia Journalism School.

The grant amounts to $35,000, which will support AL.com investigative reporter Connor Sheets in pursuing major reporting projects on law enforcement, prosecutorial, judicial, incarceration, racial and human rights abuses as well a Reckon film.

“I’m so thankful that the Lipman Center put its faith in me and AL.com by awarding us one of its inaugural grants supporting investigations at the intersection of systemic racism and criminal justice,” Sheets said.

Sheets’ reporting will be featured in a documentary produced by AL.com’s colleagues at Reckon. This film will build on earlier criminal-justice focused work by Reckon, including Facebook show Chasing Corruption as well as Unjustifiable, a podcast series about a 1970s police killing of a Black woman, and Mauled, a mini-documentary about the violent history of police dogs in the U.S. and Caribbean. 

“Southern states have some of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. And we know how hard cycles of incarceration and poverty hit the South’s women, low-wealth communities and communities of color,” said Ryan “R.L.” Nave, Reckon’s editor-in-chief.

In addition to the reporting projects that are supported by the grant, it will cover costs for reporting needs including data acquisition, additional staff and FOIA requests.

“The funding this grant provides will allow us to pursue impactful work examining the criminalization of poverty and the many ways Alabama’s justice system traps people of color and low-income people in cycles of debt, incarceration and despair,” he said.

Sheets intends on using the grant to spend six months investigating the criminalization of poverty in Alabama and its impact on people of color and people with little means. 

“Our goal is for this work to raise awareness about long-standing inequities and abuses in this state’s criminal justice system and ultimately spur systemic change,” he said.

Nave added:  “We’re thankful for this support from Columbia and the Lipman Center, which will help shine a light on inequities in the criminal justice system and the people working to break these cycles. We hope this support will help provide a deeper understanding of how the justice system is a constant force in the lives of so many Southerners.”

The Lipman Center also awarded grants to Futuro Media, the Associated Press, Mother Jones and independent journalist Brittney Martin.

“We’re enormously excited about our inaugural group of grant recipients,” said Jelani Cobb, Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism and director of the Ira A. Lipman Center. “The projects they proposed cover a range of subjects but have the common theme of the critical need for reform in our criminal justice systems.”