Listening to prisoners: the launch of the prisoner policy network

Inside Time
01/08/2018 00:01:00

Someone much wittier and wiser than me once said something along the lines of … ‘if you ever think you’re too small to make an impact, try spending the night in a tent with a mosquito’. I guess the same could be said for a prison cell.

Paula Harriott is making an impact. She is creating a buzz in prison cells around the country, and in the corridors of Whitehall where politicians and civil servants make decisions that have a lasting impact on all people behind bars.

From 2004–2012 Paula served a prison sentence. Since getting out, she’s built an incredibly impressive career giving a voice to others in the system.

In December 2017 she landed a top job at the Prison Reform Trust—a charity working to create a just, humane and effective penal system. In her position as Head of Prisoner Involvement, Paula sits on the charity’s Senior Management Team.

By appointing Paula to this senior position, the Prison Reform Trust, a highly respected and influential organisation, sent a clear signal that they are taking the opinions of people living in prisons very, very seriously.

Paula means business. On Friday 13 July at HMP Grendon, Paula, along with around 100 willing supporters, launched the Prisoner Policy Network. The general idea of the Prisoner Policy Network is that prisoners and former prisoners—the real experts in criminal justice—should have a say in how prison policy is formulated. The network has a direct line to ministers.

The Grendon launch event focused on the issue of incentives in prison. Of the 100 people at the launch, more than one-third were serving prisoners and more than one-third had spent time in prison. It was their involvement that made the day so powerful and meaningful.

I was lucky enough to have been invited to cover the event for National Prison Radio and in a special programme (to be broadcast on 13 August at 8am, repeated at 9pm) I’ll be joined in the NPR studio by Paula—together we’ll bring you highlights of the event.

I have no doubt that through the Prisoner Policy Network, Paula Harriott will make a significant impact, but she can’t do it on her own, she needs your help. In this special programme, Paula will explain how the network works and, crucially, how you can get involved.

Prisoner Policy Network is on National Prison Radio on Monday 13 August at 8am and 9pm, repeated on Friday 17 August at 5pm.

This article first appeared in Inside Time's August 2018 edition