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California and the West

Times Prison Series Wins Award

July 09, 1999

The Los Angeles Times has won the American Bar Assn.'s top 1999 journalism award for a series of stories exposing abuse of inmates by guards and subsequent cover-ups in California's prison system, the ABA announced Thursday.

It is the second time in three years that The Times has won the ABA's Silver Gavel Award, which recognizes outstanding efforts to foster public understanding of the law.

The series took an in-depth look at the nation's deadliest prison system and at state officials who ignored and even covered up abuses. It was reported and written by Times staff writers Mark Arax and Mark Gladstone, and edited by assistant state editors Paul Feldman and Donna Wares.

The stories led to immediate and unprecedented reforms, including the end of a state corrections policy that allowed prison guards to shoot unarmed inmates involved in fistfights. Until The Times' stories, California remained the only state in the nation with such a policy. In the previous four years, 12 inmates had been killed and 32 were wounded.

In the wake of the stories, which were published over seven months, five prison guards were indicted on charges of punishing an inmate by locking him in a cell with a powerful sexual predator and allowing the inmate to be repeatedly raped for two days. A new state prison watchdog law was also enacted.

In 1997, a team of Times reporters was honored for a series detailing public safety risks and poor management within the Los Angeles County Jail system.

The Silver Gavel Awards, to be presented at the ABA's national convention in Atlanta next month, were also announced in other categories, including the book "Pillar of Fire" by Taylor Branch; the Atlantic Monthly for the article "Who Will Own Your Next Good Idea?" by Charles C. Mann; an episode from the NBC series "Law & Order"; and a documentary on date rape by Salt Lake City station KSL-TV.

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