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. 89,752 face-to-face prison Listener contacts took place in 2015. There were 1,803 active prison Listeners as of the end of 2015.
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.
Listeners receive regular support and meet often with Samaritans volunteers. Listeners can also phone Samaritans at any time to access support.
In the beginning, it wasn't easily accepted by some staff, it was the old attitude that you lock them up and throw away the key. It's now much more accepted by prison staff who think it's a great help, and that it's important for not only the people who become Listeners, but also the people who need help.
Maureen, Samaritans volunteer
Support for prison staff
Prison staff are also welcome to contact Samaritans. Our services are particularly important following a suicide in custody. At these sad times, we play a key role in supporting both staff and prisoners.
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.
The Listener Scheme celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016.