Brixton Prison governor Paul McDowell: 'We don't let them have too much fun.' Photograph: Martin Argles


The UK’s most well-known prison radio station is the Sony Award winning Electric Radio Brixton. It has come in for high praise.

The US’s boasts KLSP which broadcasts within Louisiana State Penitentiary, the prison commonly known as Angola. Andy Levin of 100Eyes photographed this New York Times coverage.


In both cases, the radio stations serve to provide inmates with valuable, marketable skills AND to disseminate prison specific communications.

Electric Radio Brixton is the model for fifteen other prison radio stations up and down the UK. The Prison Radio Association is currently working with over 40 prisons and hopes eventually to build a national network for the benefit of all British prisoners. It is a community action.

Unlike Brixton’s radio initiative, the scope and model of KLSP is not intended to go national. KLSP was established in 1986 as a “means of communicating with everyone in the prison at once. Angola is the country’s largest correctional facility, with 5,108 inmates, so the need to disseminate information rapidly is critical.” The KLSP station at Angola is the only FCC-licensed radio station in the US facilitated by prisoners.

Sirvoris Sutton is a D.J. known on air as Shaq at KLSP-FM, the Louisiana State Penitentiary station where gospel wins out over gangsta rap. © Andy Levin/Contact Press Images, for The New York Times.

As with any enterprise at Angola, the radio station is implicated in Burls Cain’s philosophy of religious and moral rehabilitation. Warden Cain encourages all religious and spiritual practices, but inevitably most of Angola’s religious alliances and support are Christian:

KLSP is licensed as a religious/educational station, and, through Cain’s efforts, has formed a close alliance with Christian radio. Until recently, the station was using hand-me-down equipment courtesy of Jimmy Swaggart; last year, His Radio – Swaggart’s Greenville, S.C.-based network of stations – ‘held an on-air fundraiser for the prison, broadcast live from Angola. They quickly surpassed their $80,000 goal, raising over $120,000 within hours.

Cain used the money to update the station’s flagging equipment and train inmate DJs in using the new electronic system. In the months following their initial partnership, Cain deepened his relationship with Christian radio stations. KLSP now carries programs from His Radio and the Moody Ministry Broadcasting Network (MBN) for part of the day.

With regard the station and its remit, Brixton Prison Governor, Paul McDowell does not have the same influence as Cain. For one, the radio is operated by an independent charity, and two, the prison culture in Britain is not dictated by the personal cult/philosophies of the warden as in the US.

McDowell sees the radio station as a good way to develop critical and positive thought.

It’s not about getting people jobs in radio. There are a small number of people in the radio station talking to 800 prisoners. We want to encourage them to think more positively about their future, and encourage them to change their lives.

McDowell’s main work is to keep infamous inmates away from the airwaves and avoid unnecessary (sensationalised) criticism of the project;

I am a prison governor and half of my life is spent managing the politics of prisoners. One of the things I am not going to do is put Ian Huntley on a radio station to deliver a programme every week. That is opening us up [to attack] and if we get criticised for that then we might end up losing the whole thing.

I’d be dismayed if people in the UK could not see Electric Radio Brixton as a wellrun and sophisticated engagement of prisoners’ minds. I have personal reservations about the Christian focus at KLSP, but this focus has been the norm throughout Angola for 15 years.

Both of these enterprises deserve praise. Next, the content broadcast on their airwaves requires scrutiny.