The Future of Prison Radio: Does inmate-produced media have a place in the American prison system?
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This project explores the value and influence of National Prison Radio (NPR)—the only national prison radio network in the world, existing only inside 107 British prisons and streaming to 73,000 potential listeners—through observation and participation at two NPR producing prisons, HMP (Her Majesty’s Prison) Brixton and HMP Coldingley. I begin by introducing the prison and the formation of the HMP Brixton radio station and explaining NPR’s funding model. I then introduce Julian Mullins and Jimmy Batchelor, two former inmate producers whose testimony is integral throughout this paper. I then discuss the production of five NPR shows and describe my interactions with the inmates who produce them, as well as describe the critical issues discussed at both the Brixton station review and the NPR staff meeting. Then I discuss three of the most complex issues associated with producing prison radio: creating a listening community, creating productive relationships between inmates and outside staff, and navigating the issue of on-air identity. Next, I frame prison radio theoretically by incorporating scholarly research and testimony from inmates to illuminate the psychological influence of radio in a prison setting and how radio plays into the psychological effect of prison and the paradigm of restorative justice. I conclude by synthesizing my findings into recommendations on how to structure a prison radio project in the United States.