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Prison diaries

More than 170 men, women and children, held in prisons across the UK, kept a diary on the 290th anniversary of John Howard's birth.

To mark the Howard League for Penal Reform’s 150th birthday, we invited prisoners to tell us what life is really like in prison by keeping a diary for a day.

The day we chose – Friday 2 September 2016 – was significant as it would have been the 290th birthday of John Howard, the 18th-century penal reformer after whom the charity is named.

We promoted the project to our own members and in the Inside Time newspaper and were inundated with requests from people seeking to take part. Many also asked to become Howard League members and to find out more about what we do. Membership is free for prisoners and their families.

We sent diary sheets to prisons across the UK, asking participants to describe how they spent the morning, afternoon and evening. We invited them to tell us what they ate, what they wore and what activities they took part in.

We received more than 170 responses from men, women and children – and you can read extracts from them on the Buzzfeed News website, which has covered the project extensively.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We would like to thank the men, women, and children, held in prisons across the country, who kept diaries as part of this project to mark the Howard League’s 150th birthday. Their words provide a revealing snapshot of what life is really like behind bars.

“The diaries presented in this groundbreaking collaboration with BuzzFeed tell how people in prison can be locked up for hours on end in their cells with nothing to do and little to look forward to. How hopes of being engaged in work, education, and exercise can be dashed at the last moment because of staff shortages. How important it is for prisoners to have regular contact with their families.

“All this is set against a backdrop of system failure and tragedy: chronic overcrowding, rising violence, a growing number of incidents of self-injury, and the highest-ever number of people dying by suicide in prisons.

“We must do all we can to ensure that everyone can reach their potential and contribute to our communities in a positive way. This means ensuring that prisons are safe and decent, and used only as a last resort. Bold action is needed to stop throwing more and more people into these failing institutions, where they are swept away into deeper currents of crime and misery.”

Read extracts from the Prison Diaries


Illustration: Rebecca Hendin and Buzzfeed News

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