Prisoners get a digital connection to Samaritans

Unilink and Samaritans have launched a new service at HMP Wayland that allows people in prison to message Samaritans for emotional support.
Unilink designed the software solution that allows people in prison to send private and confidential messages to Samaritans from their in-cell computers and kiosks. Funded by a grant from HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), Samaritans volunteers in 12 branches are receiving and responding to these messages within 24 hours.
Francis Toye, CEO of Unilink said “It is vital to provide every possible means to connect prisoners and Samaritans. Prison time is hard and dispiriting and I am really proud that Unilink is helping in this way to make prisons work better. At Unilink we are really proud to be involved”.
In the first 3 months of the pilot, 453 messages had been sent from men in HMP Wayland to Samaritans. The service is available 24 hours a day and complements Samaritans’ helpline and peer support Listener scheme, which are both available to people in the prison.
This new service forms part of the Ministry of Justice’s wider work to reduce self-harm and suicide in prisons, with a £70million investment to improve safety and conditions, and the recruitment of more than 4,700 new prison officers so every prisoner can have a dedicated officer for support.
Prisons Minister Lucy Frazer said: “Too many people self-harm and take their own lives in prisons across England and Wales and I am pleased to see HMP Wayland working with Unilink and the Samaritans on innovative solutions to tackle the problem.

“This is part of our wider strategy to improve safety in prisons. As well as investing £100 million in prison security, we have trained more than 25,000 staff in mental health awareness and improved support for anyone at risk of suicide or self-harm.”

Ruth Sutherland, CEO of Samaritans said: “Every death by suicide is a tragedy. We know that suicide is an inequality issue and some of the most vulnerable people in our society are in prison. That is why Samaritans has been working to support people in prison for over 30 years.

“Writing a message can be a calm and safe way to work through what's on your mind, especially if it feels too upsetting to talk on the phone or to a Listener. We are pleased to work with Unilink and HMPPS to pilot a new service, which will increase access to support for people in prison.”

Sir Martin Narey, previous Director General of the Prison Service, and former Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service said “Throughout the seven years that I was the Head of the Prison Service, Samaritans were the most loyal and supportive organisation and carrying out vital work to stem the tragedies of suicide. Ever since becoming a Director of and Adviser to Unilink I have been looking forward to the day when we could allow prisoners to communicate with Samaritans directly from their cells. And I'm proud that Unilink have invested so much to make this happen: they're a company with a conscience and a real commitment to the welfare of prisoners."

About Samaritans

• Anyone can contact Samaritans FREE any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch, where you can talk to one of our trained volunteers face to face.
• People in prison in England and Wales can call Samaritans for free on 08457 90 90 90, by using the dedicated Samaritans PIN or requesting a Samaritans phone.
• Every six seconds, Samaritans responds to a call for help
• Samaritans is a charity and it’s the public’s kind donations and more than 20,000 volunteers that mean we are always there for anyone struggling to cope. Find out how you can support us or volunteer with us.

Samaritans work in prisons
Samaritans support people in prison across the UK and Republic of Ireland through the Listener scheme. Samaritan volunteers select, train and support prisoners to become Listeners. These Listeners then provide face to face support to their fellow prisoners who are struggling to cope. People in prison can also access support from Samaritans’ helpline and correspondence service. In England and Wales this service is funded by a grant of £500k per annum from HMPPS.
About Unilink
With over 20 years’ experience in the criminal justice sector, Unilink is a world leader in probation and community corrections software applications, as well as prisoner self-service, offender management and inmate communications.
Unlinks’ integrated suite of products provide a complete digital solution, enabling efficient management of offenders in probation, prisons and community, as well as providing digital services to offenders. Underpinned by biometrics it integrates seamlessly to deliver security, efficiency and value – while being independently proven to help prisoners with their rehabilitation.
Unlinks’ solutions and services are used by over 80 correctional facilities in the UK, Austria, Holland, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the National Probation Service in the UK.

Press and Media:
For press enquiries at Unilink email marketing@unilink.com
To contact Samaritans’ Press Office call 020 8394 8300 or email press@samaritans.org.