Eric Allison, Prison Reporter Who Knew the Beat All Too Well, Dies at 79


Eric Allison, a former profession prison who after his ultimate incarceration in England made a pointy pivot when he took a job writing about jail life for The Guardian, the place he uncovered abuses of inmates for practically 20 years, died on Nov. 2 in Manchester. He was 79.

His daughter Kerry Allison mentioned the trigger was secondary bone most cancers.

Mr. Allison led a lifetime of crime for about 50 years, spending practically one-third of that point in prisons for financial institution theft, theft, forgery, counterfeiting and fraud. He reveled within the pleasure and the risk-taking of the life.

“You see, I selected to grow to be a prison, volunteered when you like,” he wrote in The Guardian last year. “I used to be steeped in crime, loved my work and willingly signed up for the adage: ‘For those who can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.’ Accordingly, when errors occurred at work and I ended up within the slammer, I regarded it as an occupational hazard.”

However his focus modified in 2003. After finishing a sentence for fraud and whereas searching for a brand new route, he learn an commercial in The Guardian for a jail reporting job. The newspaper was searching for a former convict to exchange a double assassin who had been writing a column beneath a pseudonym.

“I believed, How are you going to discover somebody who might write about prisons who knew it from the within?” Alan Rusbridger, the paper’s editor in chief on the time, mentioned in a cellphone interview.

Mr. Allison wrote a 500-word essay and submitted his résumé, which listed his jail stays. He didn’t assume he can be employed, solely that he would possibly inform the paper in regards to the ills of the British jail system.

The primary 4 interviewees didn’t impress Mr. Rusbridger. And Mr. Allison didn’t overwhelm him at first, both.

“He appeared type of worn down and defeated and chain smoking,” Mr. Rusbridger recalled. “However as quickly as he began speaking he appeared filled with curiosity and combat.”

He employed him, with a warning. “I mentioned, ‘Look, Eric,’ we’re taking a little bit of danger as a result of if anybody discovered that you simply’re nonetheless doing crime, it might be tremendously embarrassing for us, so it’s important to promise to go straight,’” Mr. Rusbridger recounted. “And he gave me that promise and stored it.”

Mr. Allison already had a expertise for writing that he had honed in jail in articles for Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, a newspaper printed by the Revolutionary Communist Group.

And through a stretch of freedom, he had collaborated with Nicki Jameson on a e-book, “Strangeways: A Serious Disturbance” (1995), in regards to the squalid situations at Manchester Jail, as soon as often called Strangeways, that led to almost monthlong riots in 1990.

In his 19 years of reporting for The Guardian, Mr. Allison constructed belief amongst prisoners, former inmates and their households.

“His cellphone was all the time on,” Kerry Allison mentioned in an interview. “As a result of the folks he was advocating for have been typically fairly determined. He hung out on the cellphone with their crying mothers.”

Mr. Allison’s reporting created a disturbing portrait of British prisons as caldrons of typically unjust punishment.

One exposé, about pregnant prisoners being taken on lengthy journeys in what inmates referred to as “sweat packing containers” — automobiles with exhausting seats and no seatbelts — led to a change in that observe. His work with Simon Hattenstone, a options reporter and frequent collaborator, on the abuse of kids on the Medway training center led to the lack of a safety firm’s contract to run the jail. Their investigation of sexual abuse at Medomsley Detention Center prompted an inquiry through which greater than 1,000 former prisoners got here ahead with accusations of abuse.

In 2013, Mr. Allison and Mr. Hattenstone won an Amnesty International media award for human rights journalism for his or her Medomsley investigation. And final month, after his demise, Mr. Allison received the excellent journalism award from the Criminal Justice Alliance after teaming up once more with Mr. Hattenstone to report on prisoners dying in custody whereas being tried or awaiting trial; one killed himself whereas on suicide watch.

Of their reporting they found that just about two-thirds of prisoners in England and Wales who died in custody over the previous decade had in some unspecified time in the future been cited as being liable to suicide and self-harm.

“What was attention-grabbing about Eric was that he nonetheless stored all his prison mates from the previous and had wonderful contacts,” Mr. Hattenstone mentioned in an e mail.

Mr. Allison labored with charities and had been a trustee for the Prisoners’ Advice Service, which fields prisoners’ cellphone calls asking for assist. “He was an activist in his job and private life,” Lubia Begum-Rob, the director of the service, mentioned in a cellphone interview. “It was his raison d’être.”

Eric Allison was born on Dec. 2, 1942, in Manchester. His father, Alfred, was a manufacturing facility engineer, and his mom, Nellie (Welsby) Allison, was a homemaker who held part-time jobs.

Eric acquired into bother early. At 11, he and two mates broke right into a neighbor’s home and stole cash from a jar.

“I used to be all the time fairly anti-authority,” he told The Justice Gap, a regulation and justice journal, in 2014. “If anyone advised me to do one thing, I’d exit of my option to not do it.”

He had a number of legit jobs over time, like ready on tables, however he all the time returned to crime. In jail, his complaining about abuses generally landed him in solitary confinement, and he was identified to assist different inmates of their efforts to be launched.

The Guardian job gave him a platform from which to report on the brutality and poor situations in prisons. In a single column he condemned conditions at Brixton Prison in London, where he had once served time, believing it to be a racist establishment.

The column angered John Podmore, the jail’s warden on the time, who confronted Mr. Allison once they met unexpectedly at one other jail.

“I’m tall and hulking, and I leaned over him in a semi-threatening method and mentioned, ‘Thanks for the kick within the bollocks,’” Mr. Podmore recalled in a cellphone interview. “He mentioned, ‘You’re welcome,’ then ignored me.”

However Mr. Allison acknowledged that he had been brusque and referred to as Mr. Podmore the subsequent day to rearrange a go to to Brixton. He talked to prisoners, workers members and Mr. Podmore and wrote a constructive article about enhancements on the jail.

“I’m a skeptic, but I was genuinely impressed,” Mr. Allison wrote in The Guardian.

Along with his daughter Kerry, he’s survived by one other daughter, Caroline Allison; 5 grandchildren; his brothers, Walter and Tommy; and his spouse (she didn’t need her identify disclosed), from whom he was separated.

Helen Pidd, the North of England editor for The Guardian, mentioned that Mr. Allison had empathized with prisoners who had been crushed and suffered miscarriages of justice.

“He despaired in regards to the system and about coverage, however he simply stored plugging away,” she mentioned by cellphone. “He was so tenacious. He simply by no means gave up.”

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