Late Guardian prisons correspondent receives outstanding journalism award

Criminal Justice Alliance honours Eric Allison, who died last month, as a ‘dedicated activist and penal reformer’

The former Guardian prison correspondent Eric Allison, who died this month, has won the outstanding journalism award at a Criminal Justice Alliance ceremony in Birmingham.

Allison, who worked for the Guardian for 19 years, was named as one of two winners alongside the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The CJA, a coalition of more than 180 nonprofit organisations, described Allison as a “dedicated activist and penal reformer” who it said had unearthed a series of injustices in the prison system.

It said: “In the last year, Eric had written about the increasing number of UK prisoners dying on remand. Through freedom of information data he uncovered that two-thirds of those who took their lives were on care plans, and he wrote about the devastating impact by reporting on the inquest of a man on remand who had tragically taken his own life while on suicide watch.

“Eric also powerfully drew on his own experiences of the criminal justice system and life after release in his journalism.”

Allison joined the Guardian in 2003 after serving jail terms for fraud, theft and burglary. He died this month aged 79 after being diagnosed with secondary bone cancer.

The CJA award was collected on his behalf by Simon Hattenstone, the Guardian features writer and a close friend of Allison.

Other winners included Pragna Patel, the founder of Southall Black Sisters, who won the lifetime achievement award. Richard Taylor, the father of Damilola Taylor who was killed in 2000 aged 10, won the Jack Merritt legacy award for racial equality.

Allison was the Guardian’s first prison correspondent and was appointed after he answered an advert in the paper that said a criminal record was no bar to employment.

As a journalist, he was a fearless and tireless campaigner for more humane conditions in prison and for less imprisonment in general.

After he reported on pregnant women being transported in “sweat boxes” – vehicles used to take prisoners from one secure area to another – the government announced that pregnant prisoners would in future travel by taxi.

Along with Hattenstone, his work on the abuse of children in Medway secure training centre in 2016 contributed to the security firm G4S being stripped of its contract to run the children’s prison.

The pair’s 2011 investigation into sexual abuse at Medomsley detention centre led to Operation Seabrook, one of the largest inquiries of its kind in the UK, with more than 1,600 former inmates coming forward to report allegations of abuse. Allison and Hattensone won an Amnesty media award for their work on the story.

Before what he liked to call his “second career” in journalism, Allison was a career criminal. He spent 16 years in prison for crimes including forgery and bank robbery. His team’s forgery of Giro cheques was so effective that the government was forced to redesign them.


Josh Halliday

The GuardianTramp

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