When Kyle Vass was a student at Huntington High School in the early 2000s, he helped start the school's first ACLU club. Today, he's continuing to advocate for civil liberties as ACLU-WV's first investigative reporter.
Anyone following West Virginia news may be familiar with Kyle’s work. He has covered issues like the opioid addiction crisis and homelessness for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, The Guardian U.S., and National Public Radio’s Marketplace.
Kyle is also known for his news site, Dragline, where he takes in-depth looks at West Virginia government. Over the course of the next year, ACLU-WV will be powering Kyle’s work at Dragline, which will shift its focus to mass incarceration, policing and more.
We’ll be exploring conditions in West Virginia’s jails and prisons, taking a deeper dive into what is driving the high death rates in these facilities, and examining racial and economic disparities in these systems.
This morning, we got started by sending a number of public records requests to the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Continue to watch this space and Dragline.org for updates.
We sat down with Kyle recently to learn more about him and his work.
What do you most look forward to in this position?
Hands down the people. Having already met nearly everyone at the ACLU of West Virginia, I can't wait to have my reporting backed by the organization's legal and policy expertise. That expertise combined with being able to learn from the Family of Convicted People about their lived experience gives me the confidence to take my criminal justice reporting to a higher, more personal level.
What kinds of stories do you hope to tell?
I always try to tell stories about the humans behind the headlines and statistics. In West Virginia, we have so many terrifying statistics that it's easy to get lost--give up, even. Some of the statistics that horrify me the most revolve around broken systems of criminal justice. Sharing people-centered narratives about justice impacted West Virginians is, in my opinion, the best way to show the desperate need for criminal justice reform in our state.
Why did you want to get involved with the ACLU?
Katie Sierra. Shortly after 9/11, Katie got suspended from her high school for wearing clothes with handwritten messages against homophobia, military invasion and sexism on them. We went to different high schools but were roughly the same age. The ACLU of West Virginia stepped in to defend her right to free speech. Later that year, my friends and I started an ACLU club at Huntington High School and I've been a big fan of the organization's work ever since.