An investigative series by Samantha Hogan, the government accountability reporter for The Maine Monitor, has received national recognition for its advancement of Mainers’ right to know about the wrongdoing happening in Maine jails.
The “Eavesdropping in Maine Jails” series has earned the 2022 Free Speech & Open Government Award from the First Amendment Coalition.
The award recognizes outstanding accomplishment and service to the advancement of free expression or the people’s right to know about their government.
The First Amendment Coalition is a California-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that seeks to protect and promote a free press, freedom of expression and the people’s right to know. The group educates, advocates and litigates to advance government transparency and First Amendment protections for all.
Hogan’s series revealed that six Maine county jails recorded nearly 1,000 private attorney-client calls in a single year and some of the recordings were shared with police and prosecutors before trial. The Monitor has continued its reporting as state lawmakers and Securus Technologies, the phone provider for 14 of 15 jails in Maine, have proposed changes to prevent private phone calls from being recorded in the future.
Because of the Monitor’s series, lawmakers are set to weigh recommendations from a study group aimed at preventing Maine jails and prisons from recording attorney-client phone calls and to improve prisoners’ confidential access to lawyers.
During the course of 2½ years of reporting, Hogan made 100 public record requests to county sheriff’s offices to collect records about the state’s 15 jails’ contracts, policies, revenue, usernames, call logs and recording access reports with the facilities’ private phone vendors.
She compiled the call records into a searchable database, which the Monitor made available for free online so the public could search to see if their attorney-client phone calls were recorded.
Additionally, the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at the Yale Law School and local counsel helped the Monitor sue York County in August 2021 after the county denied multiple requests for data about attorney calls recorded by the York County Jail. The county settled and agreed to release some data showing at least one attorney-client phone call was accessed. Litigation to release more records is ongoing.
Other recipients of this year’s FAC award are Laurence Du Sault of Open Vallejo (for revealing years-long, systemic delays by the Vallejo Police Department investigating deaths caused by its officers) and Fred Schulte of Kaiser Health News (for wrenching loose a trove of 90 audits conducted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services revealing the government overpaid insurance companies participating in Medicare Advantage by approximately $650 million from 2011-2013.)
“The work of Samantha, Laurence, and Fred exemplifies some of the best public interest journalism today,” said David Snyder, Executive Director of the First Amendment Coalition. “Their dogged determination to unearth the truth, through countless interviews, public-records requests, and even litigation where necessary, demonstrates how a free press empowered by the law of access to public information is the lifeblood of our democracy.”
Matt Drange, a former contributing writer for the Monitor under founders John Christie and Naomi Schalit, received the same honor from FAC last year for his investigative reporting at Business Insider on tech companies’ use of non-disclosure agreements. ProPublica received FAC’s 2018 Free Speech & Open Government Award for its extensive use of public records to increase transparency around political appointees at the highest levels of government.
Read the full Monitor investigation: Eavesdropping in Maine Jails.
Readers can support the investigative work by Hogan and the Monitor’s other reporters by making a donation.
Sign up to receive the Sunday Monitor newsletter, sent weekly, to stay updated on the Monitor’s coverage, including developments in the ‘Eavesdropping’ series.