Tony Messenger, who was an editor and columnist for the Springfield News-Leader in the mid-2000s, has won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.
Messenger won the award for his work with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch highlighting cases where prisoners who served their sentences and paroles were being jailed again because they could not pay thousands of dollars in “board bills” for their jail time.
Messenger’s columns led to the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruling state judges cannot threaten indigent defendants with jail time or collect debts as court costs. The Missouri House has passed a bill making collection of “board bills” a civil procedure.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, retired Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Wolff supported Messenger’s nomination for the prize by writing: “”It is a rare and beautiful thing when solid reporting so shocks the legal system that change becomes inevitable. Tony Messenger is making that kind of impact. In a series of columns this year Messenger has reported in detail how prosecutors and judges throughout Missouri have been putting people in jail simply because they are poor.””
An archive of Messenger’s columns about the problem dating back to 2017 is available on the Post-Dispatch website.
Messenger left the News-Leader to join the Post-Dispatch in 2008.
(Story photo taken from Twitter.)