The Listener Scheme

As part of our committment to reducing suicide, we train prisoners to provide emotional support to other prisoners by becoming 'Listeners'.

Our award-winning Listener Scheme

The Listener scheme is a peer support service which aims to reduce suicide and self-harm in prisons. Samaritans volunteers select, train and support prisoners to become Listeners. Listeners provide confidential emotional support to their fellow inmates who are struggling to cope.

The first Listener scheme was introduced at HMP Swansea in 1991. Now, nearly every prison in England, Scotland and Wales has one. There are an increasing number of Listener schemes in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland too. Last year there were more than 1500 Listeners in prisons across the UK and Ireland and over 74,000 requests for support from the prison population.

"Because of the Listener scheme, the prison service has at its disposal an incredible tool that can and does make a difference for those contemplating suicide and self-harm in prison." Alex Audain, released Listener.

How does the Listener Scheme work?

Samaritans’ volunteers work with prison staff to select and train prisoners who have shown an interest in becoming a Listener.

Selected prisoners attend an intensive training course. This is based on the training that Samaritans’ volunteers undertake but is adapted to the prison setting. On completion of their training, Listeners receive a certificate and agree to follow Samaritans' policies and values.

Prisons aim to have enough Listeners available round the clock, for anyone who needs them. Support is given in private to allow complete confidentiality. The policy on confidentiality is the same as it is for Samaritans volunteers. Knowing that the service is completely private often gives prisoners the courage to ask for help and talk about what is getting to them. Even after a Listener has left prison, their work as a Listener must remain completely confidential.

Listeners are not paid and do not receive any form of benefit for their role.

Support

Listeners receive regular support and meet often with Samaritans volunteers. Listeners can also phone Samaritans at any time to access support.

The history of the Listener scheme

Following an increase in the number of suicides in prisons during the 1980s, the first Listener scheme was introduced at HMP Swansea in 1991.

The first Listener scheme in Scotland was launched in 1994 at Saughton Prison in Edinburgh. There are currently Listener schemes in all Scottish prisons, except one.

The first Listener scheme in the Republic of Ireland was established in 2002. There are currently six Listener schemes in prisons throughout the ROI with plans for others too. The first Listener scheme was also established in Northern Ireland in 2002.

Download information about the development of the Listener scheme in ‘A Listener lives here’.