Joseph Shapiro

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This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


Disney's Frozen remains one of the greatest box-office successes in history. But in terms of impact and influence, it is perhaps most loved and best remembered for one of its breakout songs.

The warden at the women's prison in Iowa recently instructed her corrections officers to stop giving out so many disciplinary tickets for minor violations of prison rules, like when a woman wears her sweatshirt inside out or rolls up her sleeves.

It's a small thing. But it's also part of a growing movement to reconsider the way women are treated in prison.

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When Monica Cosby, Tyteanna Williams and Celia Colon talk about the years they spent as inmates at women's prisons in Illinois, their stories often turn to the times they would be disciplined for what seemed like small, even absurd things.

Cosby was playing Scrabble in her cell once when a guard asked what she was doing. She responded sarcastically: "What does it look like I'm doing?" He wrote her up for "contraband" (the Scrabble set) and for "insolence."

Our Take A Number series is exploring problems around the world, and people solving them, through the lens of a single number.

At a graduation ceremony in a hotel ballroom outside Minneapolis, 28 men and women got their certificates — for learning how to raise a bit of hell.

Most graduates of the Partners in Policymaking class are the mothers of young children with developmental disabilities. They've been meeting at this hotel one weekend a month for eight months.

Earlier this year, NPR reported that people with intellectual disabilities are victims of some of the highest rates of sexual assault. NPR found previously undisclosed government numbers showing that they're assaulted at seven times the rate of people without disabilities. Now states, communities and advocates, citing NPR's reporting, are making reforms aimed at improving those statistics.

Editor's note: This report includes descriptions of sexual assault.

Somebody with an intellectual disability by definition has difficulty learning, reasoning or problem-solving.

But many often think deeply about the things that affect them — and the things that isolate them, like sexual assault.

Editor's note: This report includes graphic and disturbing descriptions of sexual assault.

There's a trial scheduled in March at the marble courthouse in Newark, N.J., of a man charged with kidnapping and raping a young woman with an intellectual disability.

That trial is likely to be a quiet one, with little attention, nothing like the feverish national press coverage 25 years ago of the trial — in that same courthouse — in another case of sexual assault of another young woman with an intellectual disability.

Editor's note: This report includes graphic and disturbing descriptions of sexual assault.

The victim couldn't tell anyone what happened that night. She was a woman with an intellectual disability who doesn't speak words. So the alleged rape was discovered, according to the police report, only by accident — when a staff worker said she walked into the woman's room and saw her boss with his pants down.

Editor's note: This report includes graphic and disturbing descriptions of sexual assault.

In the sex education class for adults with intellectual disabilities, the material is not watered down. The dozen women and men in a large room full of windows and light in Casco, Maine, take on complex issues, such as how to break up or how you know you're in an abusive relationship. And the most difficult of those issues is sexual assault.

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Editor's note: This report includes graphic and disturbing descriptions of assault.

Pauline wants to tell her story — about that night in the basement, about the boys and about the abuse she wanted to stop.

But she's nervous. "Take a deep breath," she says out loud to herself. She takes a deep and audible breath. And then she tells the story of what happened on the night that turned her life upside down.

"The two boys took advantage of me," she begins. "I didn't like it at all."

A new federal report harshly criticizes the way the Bureau of Prisons treats inmates with mental illness, singling out treatment at the prison at Lewisburg, Pa.

The report by the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General says BOP violates its own policies by keeping prisoners with mental illness in solitary confinement for too long and with too little treatment.

Disability rights activist Nick Dupree died last weekend. Tomorrow would have been his 35th birthday.

Back in 2003, he told NPR: "I want a life. I just want a life. Like anyone else. Just like your life. Or anyone else's life."

He got that life.

On Feb. 3, 2011, corrections officers at the Lewisburg federal penitentiary in central Pennsylvania arrived outside Sebastian Richardson's cell door. With them was a man looking agitated, rocking back and forth and staring down at Richardson, who at 4 feet, 11 inches was nicknamed "Bam Bam."

It may seem like there are a lot more cases of people being shot and killed by police.

Just this week, two African-American men were shot by police: Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn. Before that there were Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Laquan McDonald in Chicago and Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

But could it be that we are just paying more attention?

Davontae Sanford was only 14 years old when he was arrested for a string of murders in Michigan. But after almost nine years in prison, his conviction was overturned when a state investigation found that the real killer had later confessed to Wayne County police and prosecutors.

Now 23, Sanford was reunited with his family last week in Detroit. But that tearful homecoming almost didn't happen, because of more than $2,000 in unpaid court fines and fees he amassed while in prison — including a bill for a public defender.

Debtors' prisons have long been illegal in the United States. But many courts across the country still send people to jail when they can't pay their court fines. Last year, the Justice Department stepped in to stop the practice in Ferguson, Mo. And now, in a first, a U.S. city will pay out thousands of dollars to people who were wrongly sent to jail.

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This is a first. A city will pay thousands of dollars to people who were sent to jail because they owed a debt. It is considered wrong in this country to jail someone who can't pay. Debtors' prisons were outlawed generations ago.

Yet our NPR colleague Joseph Shapiro revealed two years ago just how often courts are locking up people who are unable to make small payments. Now Joe reports on the latest efforts to stop it.

This seems like a contradiction: Put a dangerous prison inmate into solitary confinement, and then give him a cellmate. An investigation by NPR and The Marshall Project, a news organization that specializes in criminal justice, found that this practice — called double celling — is widespread in state and federal prisons. And as we learned, those cellmates often fight, attack and, sometimes, kill.

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Civil rights lawyers are using a new strategy to change a common court practice that they have long argued unfairly targets the poor.

At issue is the way courts across the country sometimes issue arrest warrants for indigent people when they fall behind on paying court fees and fines owed for minor offenses like traffic tickets. Last year, an NPR investigation showed that courts in all 50 states are requiring more of these payments. Now attorneys are aggressively suing cities, police and courts, forcing reform.

To Haben Girma's grandmother, back in East Africa, it "seemed like magic." Her granddaughter, born deaf and blind, is a graduate of Harvard Law School and works as a civil rights attorney.

The thing Sara Garcia remembers from the day her son, Mark, got out of prison was the hug — the very, very awkward hug. He had just turned 21 and for the past two and a half years, he'd been in solitary confinement.

"He's not used to anyone touching him," Garcia says. "So he's not used to hugs. And I mean we grabbed him. I mean, we hugged him. We held him. I mean, it was just surreal to just know I can finally give him a hug and a kiss on the cheek."

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