As part of our commitment to reducing suicide, we train prisoners to provide emotional support to their peers, by becoming 'Listeners'
Our award-winning Listener scheme
The Listener scheme is a peer-support scheme within prisons, which aims to reduce suicide and self-harm. Listeners are prisoners who provide confidential emotional support to their peers who are struggling to cope or feeling suicidal. They are specially selected and trained for the role by our volunteers.
The first Listener scheme was introduced at HMP Swansea in 1991. Now there are Listeners in almost every prison in the UK, and in the Republic of Ireland too.
Typically, 1,500 Listeners respond to over 50,000 requests for support every year (figures based on 2019 statistics as the number, and recording, of contacts during 2020 was significantly impacted by Covid-19). In the 12 months ending June 2021, Samaritans answered over 365,000 calls from people in prison.
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 people in prison who have shown an interest in becoming a Listener.
Selected people 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 people in prison 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 self-inflicted death 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 then launched in 1994 at Saughton Prison in Edinburgh. The first Listener scheme in the Republic of Ireland was established in 2002. The first Listener scheme was also established in Northern Ireland in 2002.