Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Crime and Punishment

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Crime and Punishment

Article excerpt

Kate Chisholm Just a snippet on an edition of Today last spring taken from the programme that had just won an esteemed Sony Gold radio award was enough to create an impact. Ray and Violet Donovan were talking about the murder of their son, Chris, on a feature made by the Prison Radio Association.

The programme was part of an innovative Restorative Justice scheme, using the power of listening to help victims, heal prisoners, and of taking that one further step by then broadcasting their conversations throughout the prison network. It was one of those moments when you just had to stop whatever you were doing. There was something in the voice, the stillness around that voice, the lingering echo of what was being said.

It made you want to hear more from Ray and Violet, and from the prisoners. What were their reactions? Is there a chance that such a conversation might really change a prisoner's life? Originally, the awardwinning programme could only be heard inside prison walls. But on Monday night a shortened version (produced by Marianne Garvey) was broadcast on Radio 4. The Victim's Voice took us to a room inside HMP Brixton, where Ray and Violet and another victim of violent crime, Michelle, were gathered together with three prisoners, Carl, Liam and Adrian, who have all been convicted of serious assaults, for a conversation led by Professor Tanya Byron. She's a psychologist with a particular interest in violent crime, sparked by her own experience as a teenager of discovering the battered body of her grandmother, victim of a random, pointless act of violence.

The professor stressed several times that these particular prisoners and victims were not 'connected' by specific crimes, only by the shared experience of violence and its aftermath. Yet the tensions inside that room, those four walls, were palpable as Violet began by explaining 'The day just started out normal' but ended by stating, so very simply, 'I couldn't believe that anyone could stamp on someone's head.'

Perhaps most striking was the way that both Ray and Liam praise each other for their 'bravery' in being willing to come and talk, really talk about crime. Not a word was said for effect. Everything was telling, and doubly, triply so because of the containment of those six people within that room. It must surely have been the most powerful conversation on radio this week. …

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