Belfast Telegraph

Prison 'listeners' helping inmates

Prisoners on the brink of suicide are being saved by fellow inmates who train with the Samaritans.

Some 40 convicted criminals around the country are on standby 24 hours a day to listen in confidence to prisoners who are distressed or in despair.

Orla McCaffrey, Samaritans' prison support officer, said the scheme is a vital intervention in the prison service.

About 600 prisoners called on "listeners" for help in the last 12 months, up 20% on the previous years.

"It is well documented that the prison population suffers higher levels of emotional distress than the rest of the population, and there is a greater prevalence of self-harm," she said.

"Suicide rates are also higher.

"Our service is in significant demand, and both prisoners and authorities view it as an essential safety net for those in significant distress."

Samaritans volunteers have been visiting prisons across Ireland on a weekly basis since the early 1990s and 10 years ago the charity began training inmates.

It is hoped the scheme - already in Arbour Hill, Cloverhill, Mountjoy, Mountjoy Training Unit and Wheatfield - will be rolled out to the Dochas Centre, Midland's Prison and Loughlan House.

Latest figures show 49 prisoner deaths since 2007, but coroners' courts have only ruled death by suicide in five of 28 inquests held to date.

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