Site Meter

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Samaritans prison listeners service threatened by public sector cuts

Samaritans prison listeners service threatened by public sector cuts

Scheme introduced to prevent jail suicides celebrates 20th anniversary, but some fear it will soon be under threat

Raj thinks he has "probably saved about four lives". Taylor isn't sure but has certainly seen rewards in helping some deeply distressed people as well as having the chance to think about his own mistakes.

Both men are serving prison sentences at HMP Swansea for violent crimes and both are utterly convinced that their lives will be very different when they are released. They are among some 1,540 prisoners in British jails who are running the most extensive rehabilitation scheme in the criminal justice system, as prison listeners. They go into cells for face-to-face sessions with fellow prisoners and reassure new inmates, talking them through their first few days inside, a real danger time for those in despair at long sentences or fearful at the reality of being inside the tough environment of a prison.

The Samaritans first tested the project in HMP Swansea 20 years ago this month. After a series of high-profile cell suicides and a rise in self-harm among inmates that began in the late 1980s with a rash of incidents in young offender institutions, the scheme has since been rolled out into 126 prisons and has seen suicide rates drop as for the first time desperate people had someone to talk to. It is a cost-free, voluntary approach that provoked strong resistance at first among those who believed it was the "namby-pambying" of convicted criminals and who worried that allowing convicts to talk in each other's cells was a security risk. But as the anniversary is being quietly celebrated and its success heralded by prison governors and inmates, many are worried that the cuts in the public sector and a rising prison population – it hit new record levels on Friday – will put the scheme in jeopardy.

No comments: