New Media, Old News: Strategies for Getting Penal Issues into Popular Discourse
Inside Reform: Prison Healthcare Campaigns, Past and Present. Inside Reform was a policy workshop co-convened by Associate Professor Catherine Cox (UCD) and Professor Hilary Marland(Warwick), as part of their Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award Project, ‘Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850-2000’. This event was hosted by the UCD Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland and held at the National Gallery of Ireland on 2 June 2017.
This presentation is divided into three parts: the first, introduced the audience to the Howard League and what it does; the second, was on research study commissioned by the Howard League on how to get penal issues into the media; the last, was a case study of media campaign by the League.
The Howard League, established in 1866 and named after John Howard, is probably the oldest penal reform organisation in the world. As an organisation, it is characterised by its independence, its maverick status, and the fact that it likes to investigate what is really going on in the prison system. Although a small charity, with a staff of under twenty, the League punches above its weight. The Howard League has four key divisions: a research team; a policy team; a campaign team and a legal team. It enjoys consultative status with both the UN and the Council of Europe. The key characteristic of the League is that it is about change and how change is to be achieved.
The Howard League does not always court media attention and can work behind the scenes with policy makers and politicians. But the focus of Anita’s paper was on its public orientated media campaigns. The general public lack reliable knowledge on penal issues and their view of prison life is often distorted and sensationalised by media representations. Despite this, it is important for prison reform groups to use the media as the criminal justice system, to be effective, requires public confidence and a poorly informed public can drive ineffective or unfair penal policies.
NGOs are enthusiastic about the opportunities presented by digital media as a low cost way of reaching a mass public. However, if such campaigns are to succeed they require genuine popular support. For the Howard League social media is more often about new ways of attracting the attention of journalists rather than creating ‘mass’ public interest or encouraging supporter action.
Anita Dockley is responsible for developing the Howard League’s research capacity, forging links with academics and universities, funders and partner organisations. Her own research interests include suicide and self-harm in prisons, women in prison and order and control in the prison environment. She has been appointed as a member of the law sub panel in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework assessments. She is also a member of the Perrie Lectures Committee.