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Samaritans Listener Scheme for Prisons: Celebrating Twenty Years Work

The Samaritan organised “Listener Scheme” which supports prisoners in crisis and at risk of suicide, celebrates its 20th anniversary on Saturday 10th September. Here is a media briefing, which describes how Hull Samaritans contribute to a scheme about which the Ministry of Justice says, “Many lives have been saved and many of these offenders sue to their training as Listeners are now in the community, having changed their lives around and working to help others”. 

Facts: Men in prison are five times more likely to commit suicide than those in the general population, a Lancet study has found. 

Half those who commit suicide in prison have a treatable mental illness which leaves them vulnerable to feelings of despair.

The number of suicides in prison has been falling year on year since 1996, despite figures for self inflicted deaths in the general population showing a rise since 2008.

Coalition Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said, ““It is important to recognise the good work of all those who continue to care for the most vulnerable prisoners in our custody.”

When prison are inspected one key performance indicator (KPI) in every prison in the country is the provision and quality of its Listener scheme. 

Hull Samaritans Prison Work.

 Hull Samaritans currently support the Listener Scheme in three local prisons. HMP Hull on Hedon Road, which holds 1,044 prisoners, HMP Everthorpe (689) and HMP Wolds (383). 

The Listeners are inmates who are trained by Hull Samaritans in Samaritan skills, most importantly that they are there to listen in a non judgemental way, and that they do not offer advice. It is about emotional support and helping and empowering people to find their own way of coping. 

Each prison has a team of between 10 and 20 such prisoners depending on movement to other prisons, and those who are released. To be a Listener you only have to have security clearance and be in prison for the next six months or more. 

Recruitment and selection, in common with most of the work we do, is based on Samaritan values and principles. Being non judgemental is the most important, and readily tested skill. 

Listeners receive no special privileges (except for jaffa cakes at the meetings!), and their participation has no bearance on their sentence outcome. Like the rest of us Samaritans they do it because they want to help others. 

Every fortnight to three weeks the Prison Team visits each prison to hold meetings with the Listeners where they offload each call to the group and we discuss callers of concern and care plans.  These meetings take place with no Officers present to maintain confidentiality. 

For the final part of the meeting an Officer from the Safer Prisons Team will be present so that we can iron out any logistical problems such as delays in getting the Listeners to a call out, or extremely rare cases of Officers being awkward or pressuring Listeners to break confidentiality. 

Samaritans and Listeners also attend monthly Safer Prisons meetings, and offer on going training to the Listeners and, where appropriate Samaritans will speak to groups of Staff at training events. 

Once a year Samaritans meet with a Senior member of the Prison Management Team where we sign a compact outlining roles and responsibilities for each party involved in the scheme. 

Samaritans are available 24/7 to offer emotional support either by telephone (01482 323456) email, jo@samaritans.org

Or you can visit the Branch on Spring Bank in Hull.

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About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.

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