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Andy Richardson News Reporter PENPALS are improving and even saving the lives of prisoners and increasing the chances of successful rehabilitation - according to a study carried out by Warwick University.

Researchers analysing the Prisoners' Penfriends scheme currently operating in 52 prisons in England and Wales revealed it was improving prisoner wellbeing, offering early warning of potential suicide and improving the chances of successful rehabilitation.

Professor Jackie Hodgson, from Warwick University, said: "Given the recent rise in prison violence and suicides, increased prison overcrowding and the current resource pressures on the prison system, letter-writing seems an extremely valuable way to provide greater support for prisoners, based on genuine relationships of care and trust, at remarkably little cost."

The study shows prisoner penpals are typically male, serving long or indeterminate sentences and experiencing little or no contact with anyone else outside of prison.

A quarter of prisoners surveyed said they had no contact at all with anyone outside the prison walls before they started writing to their penpal.

Professor Hodgson said: "Prisoners told us about growing feelings of engagement with 'the outside world' and, as a result of being 'accepted' by their pen friend and experiencing friendship with someone who believes in their capacity for change, they began to see themselves as more than just a prisoner."

Virtually all prisoners said they intended to remain penpals for the length of their sentence, the longest penpal relationship being nine years.

As volunteers are generally aware of their penpals' usual state of mind, they have been able to alert prisons to increasingly depressed or suicidal prisoners.

The potential of the Prisoners' Penfriends scheme and other initiatives to improve prisoner wellbeing will be discussed by prison campaigners, practitioners and policymakers at an event called Prisoner Wellbeing And The Experience Of Punishment at Warwick Arts Centre on Saturday.

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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Nov 12, 2015
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