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Detroit News reporter Karen Bouffard wins 2020 Wade McCree Advancement of Justice Award

The Detroit News

Detroit News investigative reporter Karen Bouffard has earned a coveted journalism award for an in-depth probe of America's mental health services and incarceration, officials announced this week.

Bouffard was one of three area journalists to win the 45th annual Wade H. McCree Advancement  of  Justice  Award,  sponsored  by  the  Michigan  Press  Association Foundation.

Karen Bouffard

The honors, which recognize Michigan broadcast, print and online journalists, are "based on the significance and informative level of the journalism, plus its impact on changing and improving the legal and law enforcement systems," organizers said in a statement.

Bouffard's entry, her series called “Healing Justice,” showed America’s under-investment in mental health services and the enormous expense of incarceration. One graphic showed how incarceration increased in the United States as American mental health hospitals were shuttered over the course of several decades.

For the project, Bouffard traveled to Norway in March 2019 to examine how the country's community-based mental health services and prisons have resulted in some of the world's lowest rates of incarceration and recidivism.

From one of her reports: Critics argue that failings in the United States' mental health system have turned U.S. jails and prisons into revolving doors for people with mental illness — a problem they say contributes to high incarceration rates while making some mentally ill prisoners sicker. They contend Norway, with a population about half of Michigan's nearly 10 million people, provides an example of how America and its states could better balance government spending between criminal justice and mental health services. 

Also winning the justice award were reporter Heather Catallo of WXYZ for an in-depth investigation “Guardianship Epidemic: I just want my parents back” and reporter Sarah Cwiek of Michigan Radio for her investigation “They say their son needs to be in a psychiatric hospital. He went to jail instead.” 

The awards typically are presented each year  at  the  Michigan  Journalism  Hall  of Fame ceremony, which has been moved to a later date. 

The recognition is named for Judge Wade H. McCree (1920-87), who advocated for the press’ role in a free society as a federal judge, law professor and U.S. solicitor general.

A panel of five judges representing law and media selected the winners after reviewing more than two dozen entries.