Earlier this month, Amherst High School senior Spencer Cliche was the lead writer for a multi-month investigation into the use of prison labor to upholster seats in the high school and middle school auditoriums. The investigation, published in the school newspaper, The Graphic. documents how Amherst School Superintendent Michael Morris awarded a contract for over $100,000 to MassCor, a Massachusetts-based prison labor contractor, forgoing further negotiations with the Wellspring Cooperative, a Springfield-based social and economic justice-oriented worker coop that had come in with a higher bid. The article also explored the ethically fraught nature of using low cost prison labor.
The article received considerable local attention and within 24 hours of publication, Morris notified parents in an email that the school system would not use prison labor again.
Since then, Cliche and Graphic Advisor Sara Barber-Just were interviewed by Eli Hager of the Marshall Project , “a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. (They) achieve this through award-winning journalism partnership with other news outlets and public forums. In all of (their) work, (they) strive to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice”. Hager’s interview headlined the Marshall Project’s web site and can be read here:
Following the posting of Hager’s article it was picked up and published by Teen Vogue . And today, the story was picked up by the New York Times. Barber-Just estimates that the story may reach a million hits and notes that it highlights the impactful work of student journalists.