A series of investigative articles looking at the failures of a police force tasked with protecting people with developmental disabilities is being recognized as among journalism’s best.

Reporting from the online news site California Watch, which was founded by the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting, was named a finalist this week for the Pulitzer Prize for public service journalism.

The award recognized a five-installment series titled “Broken Shield” published between February and November 2012 examining California’s Office of Protective Services. Responsible for policing the state’s institutions known as board-and-care centers, reporters found that the department’s investigations of abuse were routinely fault-ridden.

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In dozens of cases, for example, the news outlet found that women were allegedly sexually assaulted at state facilities, but no rape kits were ordered. In other instances, staff members at the care centers were allowed to continue working with residents even after being accused of abuse, the report indicated.

Since the stories were published last year, the series has prompted a criminal investigation and new laws in the state.

Considered journalism’s highest honor, the prizes are awarded annually by Columbia University. In addition to California Watch, The Washington Post was also named a finalist for public service reporting for examining mishandling of evidence by the Justice Department. The South Florida Sun Sentinel won the top prize in the category for an investigation of speeding among off-duty police officers.