“I’m the kind of person that, if I get an email with the subject line ‘Depravity,’ I’m like, ‘Ooh, yay! I’m going to open that one first!’” says Rachel Monroe, who wrote about Dr. Michael Welner, a well-known and at times controversial forensic psychiatrist, and his decades-long quest to develop something he calls the Depravity Standard, an instrument that endeavors to objectively measure how evil a particular crime is. This type of reporting is comfortable territory for the Texas-based freelance writer: She has written about murder, death, and crime for publications like the Oxford American and the New York Times. But when she actually sat down to take Welner’s crowd-sourced survey, which asks participants to compare and rank unthinkable crimes against other unthinkable crimes, Monroe found herself unable to finish. “I think I might have hit my limit,” she says. In "Evil Genius," Monroe explores the almost impossibly complicated task of standardizing evil.
In the summer of 2013, German authorities raided a compound of a little-known Christian sect after evidence emerged that parents were physically assaulting children. For Julia Scheeres, more surprising than the violence was that authorities acted so aggressively in removing the children; a growing number of religious exemptions from child-welfare laws in the United States allow the same sect, the Twelve Tribes, to live its teachings with minimal interference. In "Children of the Tribes," Scheeres profiles the group in a report that involved years of interviews with dozens of former and current members, and the review of hundreds of pages of church teachings. “The U.S. is a leader in so many other areas—gay rights, women’s rights—but the next revolution needs to be children’s rights,” she says.
Picture, if you can, 12 million metric tons of plastic. That’s how much is dumped into the ocean every year. We produce and dispose of garbage in such unfathomably large volumes that it strains the human imagination to conceive of it. “It’s a frustrating thing to report on, because we make such bad decisions at such a grand scale,” says environmental reporter Brooke Jarvis. When she met photographer Chris Jordan, the subject of “The Messengers,” she found they were drawn to the same questions about how to convey the inhuman scale in a way that resonates with people emotionally. “We tend to avoid the really challenging, emotional side effects of environmental disaster,” Jarvis says, but Jordan’s work on Midway’s Laysan albatrosses and their poisoning by plastic forces us to face the enormous reach of our mass culture. Jarvis is based in Seattle, and has written for the California Sunday Magazine, the Atavist, and National Geographic, among others.
Having written about women’s reproductive rights in the past, Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow was especially interested in exploring the underreported “safe haven” laws, which offer a seamless—and anonymous—way for mothers to hand over their babies to the state. These laws form the subject for Laury Oaks’ new book, Giving Up Baby, which Tuhus-Dubrow dissects in "A Safe Haven for Whom?" "What I find interesting about the book is the way it ties together so many different issues: abortion, adoption, class, ideas about maternal love," says Tuhus-Dubrow, a contributing editor at Dissent. “From a policy perspective, I agree with the author that safe haven laws should be supplemented, so the mother is offered other kinds of support,” including postpartum care and counseling services.
Last February, when freelance writer Maura Ewing read the Vera Institute of Justice’s report on the misuse of jails in America, she was struck by the immense burden the bail system levies upon the poor. “I had written some about criminal justice before, but I didn’t really understand the bail system until then. I had always thought it was some form of punishment, and not just purely there to make sure you come back to trial,” she says. Using cash deposits as the condition of release, Ewing reports, created a situation in which, in 2013, almost half of New York City’s jailed inmates were non-violent misdemeanor offenders who couldn’t afford a bail of $2,500 or less. “That really resonated with me, so I started looking for ways to tell this story,” says Ewing, who has also written about crime and injustice for the Marshall Project, Al Jazeera America, and the Nation. In "Punished for Being Poor," Ewing profiles former public defender Alyssa Work and her mission to alleviate the burden of bail for our nation’s poorest.
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