Samaritans sends former prisoners back inside to help prevent suicide

A new Samaritans initiative, run by former prisoners to help new prisoners cope better with life inside, is aiming to reduce suicide and self-harm. Details of the scheme have been released to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September 2018.

The sessions, which have been piloted in two London prisons, have been developed by Samaritans and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), with funding from the Ministry of Justice.

The trainers, who have all served prison sentences themselves, helped those newly arrived develop skills to manage any difficult thoughts and feelings. The risk of suicide is higher when prisoners enter or move prisons and, in general, prisoners are at ten times more risk of taking their own lives than people on the outside.

Steve, who ran weekly sessions at HMP Wandsworth, said: “As trainers we all have experience of prison, which really helps give the course credibility among the prisoners. We wanted to create a safe space for them to be able to talk about their feelings and learn to manage them better, to help them cope in prison.”

Simon, who was trained by Samaritans to deliver the sessions at Wormwood Scrubs, said: “We were able to teach people positive coping strategies and give them back some control over their emotions. I could see how some prisoners were starting believe that they would make it through even the longest of sentences.”

Alan, who also ran sessions in Wandsworth, said they had wider benefits too: “These workshops are not just about people helping themselves, they are also about prisoners supporting each other. They could play a part in changing the culture in prison so that people feel able to ask for help and encourage the people around them to get support if they need it.”

One participant in the pilot project said: “The session has made a difference to me. I do think about it a lot. It’s helped me understand myself more and others more. I’ve remembered a lot of what we were taught.”

When asked how useful the sessions were, 86% of prisoners said they were useful or very useful. 

Prison's minister Rory Stewart said: “We know the early days in prison are some of the hardest. I am grateful to Samaritans for their sensitive support for vulnerable prisoners, which is a valuable contribution to our wider efforts to make prisons places of safety and reform.”

Samaritans and HMPPS will work together to share learning from the project and to build on the success of the initiative at a time when suicide and self-harm in prisons are a major concern.


Further information


For more information and interviews, please contact Samaritans’ Media team on 0208 394 8300 or email

Notes for Editors

  • The ‘Coping With Life in Prison’ sessions ran in HMPs Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs between October 2017 and May 2018. 52 sessions were delivered, with 353 male prisoners completing a session.
  • Samaritans already runs the Prison Listener Scheme, which began in 1991 and now operates in most prisons in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Samaritans volunteers train prisoners, who are known as ‘Listeners’, to provide peer support for other prisoners who are struggling to cope.
  • Samaritans’ helpline is also available to prisoners for free via dedicated phones or pay phones.
  • The public can contact Samaritans any time for free from any phone on 116 123. This number is free to call and will not show up on your phone bill. Or email or go to to find details of your local branch where you can talk to one of our trained volunteers face to face.
  • Samaritans is a charity and it’s the public’s kind donations and more than 20,000 trained volunteers that mean we are always there for anyone struggling to cope.  Your money or your time could save a life. Find out how you can support us: