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More support for prisoners in crisis at Brigend prison in South Wales

A scheme at G4S-managed HMP Parc in Bridgend, South Wales which sees prisoners volunteer to support their peers in crisis is set to double in size this April

The Listeners project, run nationwide by The Samaritans, trains prisoners to provide confidential support to prisoners in crisis, from those struggling with depression and self-harm, to those contemplating take their own life.

The scheme has been a real success at the prison with 35 new applicants looking to be trained as Listeners this April. The Samaritans provide training via a series of workshops delivered at the prison. Once completed, the new volunteers continue to attend seminars with speakers such as mental health practitioners and drug and alcohol rehabilitation workers who share their experience with the volunteers.

Parc currently has 15 Listeners operating on a three day rota system which see pairs of Listeners available to be called upon day or night to support prisoners who are experiencing crisis. 

The Listener scheme operates in 141 prisons in the UK and Ireland with more than 1800 active Listeners. In 2015 nearly 90,000 requests were made for help from prisoners struggling or experiencing suicidal thoughts with the scheme celebrating its 25th anniversary last September.

Across the prison estate, self-harm is on the rise, with recent figures released by the Ministry of Justice demonstrating an increase of over a fifth in 2015.

Director at HMP Parc, Janet Wallsgrove said:

“Like prisons across the country, tackling self-harm at Parc is a key priority to strengthen safety for those in our care. 

“The Listeners programme is particularly vital because it sees prisoners, trained by the Samaritans, helping their peers and offering the perspective of someone who has walked in their shoes. The scheme has made a tangible difference to prison life over more than 25 years and I am very pleased that so many prisoners have come forward to apply to be part of the programme. 

“We will continue to work hard to improve the range of support we have in place for prisoners struggling to cope, including through colleagues in prison healthcare and local agencies outside the prison.”

Maria Newbold, who co-ordinates the scheme at Parc said:

“I have been involved with the Listeners for just over a year now and have witnessed first-hand that having prisoners give their own time to support others is invaluable.

“It gives prisoners support from people who can really empathise with their situation and a sense of accomplishment for the Listeners themselves.”

Samaritans Regional Prison Support Officer, Anna Allen said:

“In my experience it can be transformative to become a Listener. At HMP Parc we get men who want to give something back and although the scheme can be hard work they get a lot out of it.

“There is a respect for the Listeners, and in Parc from the top down the staff are supportive. When the staff are really involved it helps the Listener scheme to flourish.”

Listeners are trained to deal with a range of mental health issues, from anxiety to those contemplating taking their own life. Support is available for Listeners from the Samaritans who attend a two hour confidential group session at the prison every Tuesday.