Why our work with prisoners is so important
For most people the thought of being sent to prison is the stuff of nightmares. The loss of freedom, the lack of privacy, the fear of violence and all the other things we read and hear of life in prison would haunt us. No wonder then that men and women in prison are twelve times more likely to kill themselves than other members of society.
Often, access to telephones or computers in prison is severely restricted which means access to Samaritans for support is also extremely difficult. Prisoners are also often afraid of showing any signs of weakness, either to fellow inmates or to prison authorities. Before 2008, letters to and from Samaritans, like any other mail, could be opened and read by prison officers.
Confidential freepost envelope scheme
In 2008, after discussions with the Home Office, a scheme was introduced where freepost envelopes were offered to all prisons in England, Wales and Scotland. 140 prisons adopted the scheme and literally thousands of envelopes have been distributed.
Letters in freepost envelopes are no longer opened, so confidentiality is preserved and prisoners can feel free to express their fears and even thoughts of suicide. Since the scheme was started there has been a five-fold increase in the numbers of letters received from prisoners.
Promoting the scheme
One of the difficulties in promoting the scheme is the turnover of staff within the prisons. New Safer Custody Officers are appointed who are often unaware of the confidential freepost envelopes. Samaritans Correspondence branch contacts each prison approximately every two years to publicise the Scheme. We would like to make contact every six months to ensure prisoners always have access to the envelopes but the cost and shortage of funds makes this impossible.
Freepost envelopes within prisons
We rely on Samaritan volunteers to take supplies of freepost envelopes into prisons, where they encourage staff to make them freely available so that prisoners do not have to ask for an envelope. We know that this can lead to the envelopes being wasted. However, we also know that some people may otherwise have taken their own life had they not had access to the service. For this reason alone, it is all worth while.