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The Better Government Association announced Tuesday that two investigative projects from ProPublica Illinois, in partnership with the Chicago Tribune and WBEZ, won two Richard H. Driehaus Awards for Investigative Reporting and the inaugural Readers’ Choice Award. The awards honor investigative reporting in Illinois that addresses state and local government waste, fraud and corruption.
“The Quiet Rooms” series, a collaboration between ProPublica Illinois and the Tribune, won first place with a prize of $15,000. In addition, the series won a new Readers’ Choice Award, voted on by the public, with a prize of $1,000. The series, by ProPublica Illinois reporter Jodi S. Cohen, the Tribune’s Jennifer Smith Richards and former ProPublica Illinois fellow Lakeidra Chavis, showed how Illinois schools frequently put children in stark “isolated timeout” spaces, or physically restrained them, for reasons that violated state law. The series prompted Illinois’ governor and state education officials to commit to sweeping change, beginning with emergency restrictions.
“The Bad Bet” a four-part investigation into video gambling across the state of Illinois, a collaboration between former ProPublica Illinois reporters Jason Grotto and Sandhya Kambhampati and WBEZ reporter Dan Mihalopoulos, won third place with a prize of $4,000. The investigation examined the impact slot and poker machines have had on the state’s finances and the social costs associated with video gambling. Reporters uncovered how the gambling industry’s massive growth in Illinois has fueled an increase in gambling addiction among thousands of residents and ceded outsized political influence to industry insiders, all while failing to deliver the financial windfall lawmakers had promised cash-strapped communities around the state. This comprehensive examination held legislators to account for their actions and prompted concrete change, including an increase in funding to combat addiction and to strengthen the state gaming board.
See other winners of this year’s Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Awards for Investigative Reporting here.