NATICK, Mass. — The New England Newspaper & Press Association awarded the Sun Journal a Publick Occurrences Award for Outstanding Journalism on Thursday during the association’s annual conference.

The newspaper was also named a distinguished newspaper in the daily category.

The Publick Occurrences Award, named for the first newspaper in America that published a single issue in 1690 before the royal governor suppressed the effort, recognized the Sun Journal’s work reporting on the transport of Androscoggin County inmate Meghan Quinn by a private transport company in November 2016.

During that trip, Quinn was handcuffed and held in a tiny cage the size of a dog kennel, without ample access to a bathroom or use of sanitary products to contain menstruation. She was forced to defecate in a used hamburger wrapper and pee into an empty bottle in full view of the male prisoners riding with her in the van.

According to the Sun Journal’s investigation, led by staff writer Christopher Williams, Quinn spent five days in the U.S. Prisoner Transport van and, hours before Quinn was supposed to be delivered to the Androscoggin County Jail, transport drivers pulled over and one of them went into a Walmart to buy her a pair of leggings. She was ordered to strip out of her soiled traveling pants and put on the leggings, appearing nearly presentable when transferred into the care of the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department.

She had been arrested in Florida on a warrant for a probation violation.

In the days following the March 26 report and accompanying editorial, the newspaper heard from dozens of other people who had been transported by this company and who had endured similar experiences to Quinn.

At the same time, Androscoggin County District Attorney Andrew Robinson announced the county would stop using U.S. Prisoner Transport and he later reached out to district attorneys across Maine to encourage them to cancel their contracts. As a result, most of them did.

The district attorneys have since been working together to identify alternative means of transporting prisoners to and from Maine.

NENPA judges commented: “An outrage story about a woman arrested in Florida and transported to Maine in a privately operated van under unsanitary, inhuman conditions.

“The most salutary effect of the paper’s enterprise was that it got results: Many DAs in Maine canceled their contracts with the company that operated the van. The ‘Star’ of the paper’s package was the woman, who was forthright and frank in her description of her ordeal.”

According to the newspaper’s executive editor, Judith Meyer, “The move by the district attorneys to end their contracts with U.S. Prisoner Transport is a lasting and positive move to protect prisoners’ rights that would not have happened but for our reporting.”

U.S. Prisoner Transport never responded to multiple Freedom of Access Act requests from the Sun Journal and declined all requests for interviews. After the investigation was published, the company issued a statement that its internal investigation of the Quinn transport concluded that the company had properly followed its procedures.


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