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NJ.com investigations reveal major failures by State of New Jersey in battle against coronavirus

Throughout the first two months of the coronavirus pandemic in New Jersey, NJ.com has sought to inform and illuminate, while telling important stories about what is happening in our communities.

More recently, though, we find ourselves in a new phase: The initial dust has settled. Accountability must be sought and demanded.

Who knew what and when?

Could the response to the virus have been better?

Over the past 18 hours, NJ.com published two powerful and deeply concerning investigative reports. We believe both of these stories represent the kind of work that lies at the very core of our mission: To hold power to account; and to give voice to the most underrepresented and vulnerable members of our population.

With Coronavirus has killed dozens in state prisons. How N.J. failed to stop it, reporters S.P. Sullivan, Joe Atmonavage and Blake Nelson paint a harrowing portrait of how the virus spread inside New Jersey prisons, and how critical decision making by state officials left an already vulnerable population almost entirely defenseless. The piece, based upon dozens of interviews with prisoners, families and experts, illustrates how New Jersey ended up with the highest rate of inmate deaths in the country. Even more alarmingly, it points out the vast discrepancies between what the Murphy administration says is happening inside correctional facilities and what those inside say they’ve been experiencing.

A similar disjunction between words and actions lies at the core of N.J. failed to fix unemployment system for 19 years, records show. Now Murphy pleads patience. Reporters Sophie Nieto-Munoz and Matt Stanmyre pored over hundreds of pages of records and official documents and conducted more than a dozen interviews. Their reporting reveals that for nearly two decades officials have been sounding the alarm that N.J.’s unemployment benefits system was in desperate need of an upgrade — and that Republican and Democratic administrations alike kept passing the buck. As countless New Jersey residents find themselves pushed to the financial brink, this piece is an essential look at a heartbreaking situation that likely could have been avoided.

We hope you will read these pieces and share them widely. We also hope that if you value work like this — the product of weeks of careful reporting, writing and editing — that you will consider a voluntary subscription to NJ.com. Work like this isn’t always easy, and often comes at a significant financial cost — and we need reader support in order to continue to be able to do it.

Next week, we’ll publish another major investigative report about the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and as the crisis unfolds, we plan to continue to press for answers and clarity.

Sincerely,

Ashleigh Graf, Managing Producer, Data and Investigations
Christopher Kelly, Director, News Innovation, Topics and Features

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