Counselling, Supervision, Training, Research, Teaching, Writing. Providing therapeutic services to the people of East Lancashire and beyond.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Keep Listening in HM Prisons

I was concerned to read in a Guardian article here that the prison listeners service may be under threat because of government cuts. Prison listeners are trusted prisoners who volunteer to be trained in listening skills by the Samaritans. Whenever other inmates are feeling suicidal or depressed they are padded up with a listener who can then help them to talk and share their feelings. The article states that prisoners volunteering as listeners help the prison staff to manage suicidal and depressed prisoners. I have visited prisons that have a listener's cell on each wing. It's a little roomier than your average cell, in recognition of the valued work that's being done in there and the need for more space. Prisoners rightly wear their volunteering as a badge of honour because when you are a listener you are in a position of trust.

So the listener service benefits those prisoners experiencing distress because they have someone to talk to who has an idea what it's like to be in prison, separated from family and friends. It benefits the prison service because they are having suicidal prisoners monitored in a cost effective way. It helps to rehabilitate offenders because they are learning and applying listening skills underpinned by empathy and compassion and one of the greatest challenges in the rehabilitation of offenders is making up for deficits in empathy and compassion. So rather than cutting the listeners service I would expand it: teaching as many prisoners as possible basic counselling skills, running prisons in more democratic ways, modelling constructive rather than aggressive ways of using power. This approach has been used in Therapeutic Communities and in institutions committed to the principles of restorative justice. It needs to operate across the whole prison - inmates and staff - and is an alternative to the power dynamics that currently rage in HM Prisons, where might is right and were it makes complete sense to remain emotionally detached and physically aggressive.

1 comment:

  1. John, it is so heartwarming to read this John. Sometimes it takes a while to get what we deserve, or indeed to even ask for it. A brave and wonderful step. Enjoy the journey. You are the one.