Joseph Darius Jaafari
Reporter | Doc Filmmaker
I am an investigative reporter based out of Phoenix, Arizona. I cover crime, courts, prisons, and police with a focus on centering community voices who are most affected by law enforcement. I also am comfortable in tech and science, and have a background in covering veterans and military issues, particularly in regards to courts-martial and military prosecutions.
My goal in cornering out this niche in the news market is to inform Americans on the inner workings of the criminal justice system from multiple perspectives, not just from law enforcement and those who work inside, but also from those people who are ensnared in it.
My work has been published in The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, USA Today, Rolling Stone Magazine, Teen Vogue Magazine, The Atlantic, VICE, and other various outlets. I have a BFA from CUNY York College in film and journalism, where I graduated summa cum laude, and an MFA from the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY with a focus on data journalism and documentary filmmaking.
Below are links to articles and videos over the past two years.
Constables are not police officers in Arizona. Yet, they have the same impunity as other law enforcement. And when a tenant eviction went sideways in Phoenix, it exposed the lack of oversight into a little-known sector of law enforcement.
In an 18-month investigation in partnership with KJZZ Radio and USA Today, I lead a team of reporters to look at the ubiquity of prison labor in Arizona. We found that the state goes far beyond just using prisoner to make run-of-the-mill products for the state, such as license plates. Instead, they found a profitable market in selling prisoners to private companies.
"Months after he was reported missing, police haven’t acknowledged the suspicious circumstances surrounding his disappearance."
Immediately after the Instagram star Gabby Petito disappeared, there were calls around the nation on why people didn't focus on missing Black people. In Arizona, a similar story was brewing that had gathered national attention. But was it racism? Or just blatant police negligence?
In a first of its kind data analysis, myself and another reporter worked together to scrape the Department of Corrections' website (after being denied basic public records), and found data that contradicted the state's claims on how harsh marijuana laws actually were against people in certain neighborhoods, particular Black and Latino neighborhoods in downtown Phoenix.
During Black Lives Matter marches in the summer of 2020, a little known city on the outskirts of a rural town in central Pennsylvania became viral after I originally reported on a shooting I had heard about via Twitter. That story turned into a follow-up investigation and collaboration with two local news outlets that spanned almost a year looking into the cultural friction that the shooter and his family brought onto the community. As a result of our reporting, charges were filed against the shooter. This story also won a Keystone Award in the features category.
In partnership with The Appeal, we gathered court records dating back 6 years, along with traffic stop incidents, and built a (very elementary) web scraper to grab traffic stop data by Pennsylvania State Police to find how many troopers pulled people over for routine traffic stops, and used those traffic stops as grounds for doing interdiction searches. While interdiction searches are nothing new, what we found out was how courts were routinely throwing these cases out, consistently calling these stops illegal, and state police knew but kept doing them, anyway. As a result of our reporting, the governor opened an investigation into the state police's traffic stops. This series also earned a Keystone Award in the investigations category.
"Inside a Pennsylvania Prison’s Hunger Strike"
In collaboration with Rolling Stone Magazine and the Fulton County Press, we spent months digging into the allegations on how local county jail officials were punishing prisoners for going on a hunger strike after demanding better conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The corrections officers went as far as placing the leader — a Black muslim man — in a solitary confinement cell with a known white supremacist who vowed to kill him. As a result of our reporting, the jail immediately put in place contact tracing, gave out masks, consistently, and started openly reporting their case numbers.
A look at how veteran courts in Pennsylvania disproportionately have an effect across Pennsylvania's criminal justice system. Where some people get a second chance, others do not. As a result of our reporting, legislation was proposed to expand veteran treatment courts to all 64 counties in the state. Filmed/Edited/Produced
A night in the grocery store during the first few weeks of the pandemic. We followed around a grocery store worker who was nonchalant about the pandemic, and dismissed any fears about the spread and effect it might have on people. The story went viral across the state and resulted in the grocery store chain requiring masks before mask mandates, and additional training for staff. Filmed/Edited/Produced
As a guest on the New Exchange Podcast, I speak openly about my experience in how I got into journalism, my past with drug use, and why we need to look at covering crime differently in the United States. And also why I love tacos so much.
I speak with Dr. Tammy Nelson about my documentary, Woof: A Barkumentary — which won three international awards for mini documentaries — on what I learned about filming in the kink community, trust in police around reporting abuse, and how it informed my reporting when approaching the two stories I did for Rolling Stone on kink and murder. (Stories are here and here.)