Erwin James

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Full name: Erwin James Monahan

Area of interest: Prison, prison life, prison reform, criminal justice, crime

Journals/Organisation: The Guardian


Personal website:


Blog: Open Air




About: Erwin James is a Guardian columnist. He served 20 years of a life sentence in prison before his release in August 2004

Education: Open University: History

Career: First article in the Guardian appeared in 1998 and began writing a regular column, entitled A Life Inside, in The Guardian in 2000

Current position/role: Columnist

  • also writes/written for:

Other roles/Main role:

Other activities: Trustee of the Prison Reform Trust; Patron of the charity CREATE (an organisation that promotes the arts and creative activities among marginalized groups); Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (FRSA); Honorary Master of the Open University



  • A life again - Erwin James was serving a life sentence when the Guardian asked him to write regular dispatches from jail about his experiences there. He was released on parole last summer. Here, in his final column for G2, he reflects on the lessons that prison - and freedom - have taught him - 5th September 2005
  • The real me - For the past nine years the Guardian has run regular columns and articles by a convicted murderer identified only as Erwin James. Here he talks for the first time about his real identity, his life before, during and after the 20 years he spent in jail - and why he told lies about his time in the French Foreign Legion - 24th April 2009

Broadcast media:


Controversy/Criticism: The Guardian's 'Prison Diarist': The murderer who wrote lies and got paid for it - Laura Collins, Daily Mail, 26th April 2009

Awards/Honours: Koestler Awards for prose: First prize, 1995



Books & Debate:


Latest work: The Home Stretch: from prison to parole OCLC 57485991, 2005

and see books (



The Guardian:

Column name: Outside View

Remit/Info: Prison, prison life, prison reform, criminal justice, crime


Role: Commentator



Website: / Erwin James | / Outside View

Commissioning editor:

Day published: varies


Column format:

Average length:


  • Do prisoners need PlayStations? - How prisoners pass their time inside has become a matter of controversy - Wednesday, 17th September 2008 (Joe Public blog)
  • A titanic mistake - Titan prisons will tip the balance even further towards punishment, making rehabilitation even more difficult to achieve - Tuesday, 9th September 2008 (Comment is free)
  • A Titanic fallacy - Lord Carter's assertion that big jails will serve justice better has no factual grounding, says Erwin James - Friday, 22nd August 2008 (Joe Public blog)
  • Titan prisons could go wrong on a massive scale - Tuesday, 5th August 2008
  • Banged Up has finished - but what did it achieve? - Banged Up shouldn't have made the claim of being a 'bold, groundbreaking social experiment'. It wasn't - Thursdsay, 31st July 2008 (the blog tv&radio)
  • Blunkett's ideal of justice verges on the criminal - Banged Up may think it's all about social justice, but criminal justice professionals are mortified to watch it - Wednesday, 23rd July 2008 (the blog tv&radio)
  • Questionable justice in Banged Up - David Blunkett goes AWOL and much seems contrived, but this show has its moving moments nonetheless - 15th July 2008 (the blog tv&radio)
  • Punishment alone is not the answer to knife crime - Erwin James calls for more restorative justice programmes targeting young people - Tuesday, July 15th 2008 (JoePublic blog)
  • Tastes like porridge - Food is one of the things you have to get right in prison - surely cutting back on meat and fresh vegetables makes no sense at all - Monday, 7th July 2008 (WordOfMouth blog)
  • Self-harming in prisons: the gruesome truth - Some prisoners in despair resort to acts that are beyond horrific, writes Erwin James - Wednesday, 2nd July 2008
  • The case against Casey's plan to shame offenders - There are more appropriate forms of community punishment than the negative reforms suggested in the government's review, argues Erwin James - Thursdsy, 19th June 2008 ((JoePublic blog)
  • No hiding place - If whoever killed Jimmy Mizen is convicted and sent to prison, says Erwin James, he may find it harder than most to redeem himself - Friday, 23rd May 2008
  • Criminal failure - The hard-nosed people at the CBI say that prisons policy isn't delivering value for money. But is anyone at the Ministry of Justice listening - Wednesday, 21st May 2008 (Comment is free)
  • Crime doesn't pay - Gordon Brown talks about the responsibilities of prisoners, but in refusing to increase their measly allowance, he's shirking his own - Wednesday, 30th April 2008
  • Who will challenge this 'soft prisons' nonsense? - The thirst for tabloid headlines and tough political soundbites is suppressing the harsh reality of prison life. But why aren't more individuals standing up for the truth? - Tuesday, 29th April 2008
  • DNA initiative brands children as criminals - Tuesday, 25th March 2008
  • Words offer release from the shadows of the streets - Erwin James on how a writing group is offering hope to homeless people - Friday, 15th February 2008
  • Wanted: cosy des res with working toilet - In these days of overcrowded prisons, a really good cell is worth hanging onto, says Erwin James - Friday, 11th January 2008
  • No place for a lady - There's little public appetite for locking up women, says Erwin James. So why do we still do it? - Friday, 30th November 2007
  • Faulty model - Courses designed to reduce re-offending just breed dishonesty among prisoners, says Erwin James - Tuesday, 30th October 2007
  • A plea for mitigation - A new study revealing that judges fail to take into account factors relating to social deprivation is a cause of concern for Erwin James - Friday, 19th October 2007
  • It's worth a "spin" - Prisoners don't like having their cells - or their bodies - searched, but Erwin James argues that abandoning spins and strips would be foolish - Tuesday, 7th August 2007
  • There's no justice in a "jugging" - Prisoners who attack other inmates may see themselves as heroes, but Erwin James regards them as deluded and cowardly - Thursday, 26th July 2007
  • Learning to help the vulnerable - The findings of a Prison Reform Trust research project, No One Knows, must trigger urgent action, argues Erwin James - Tuesday, 10th July 2007
  • Prisons must be a priority for Brown - Tony Blair leaves behind a prison system that shames our society, says Erwin James. The new prime minister must do better - Monday, 25th June 2007
  • Journey to nowhere - For the growing prison population of lifers trapped in a black hole of hopelessness, even death might seem a better alternative, says Erwin James - Monday, 11th June 2007
  • Turning a new leaf - The soothing power of nature can play a role in the rehabilitation of offenders, writes Erwin James - Friday, 23rd February 2007
  • New life - A beautiful garden showed what one young offender could achieve away from criminal contacts, writes Erwin James - Thursday, 28th December 2006
  • Happy returns - I never expected to feel so welcome on a trip back to the prison where I spent seven years, writes Erwin James - Wednesday, 22nd November 2006

News & updates: