New Bridge Foundation

Posted by editor 09/12/2013 0 Comment 3798 views

New Bridge

Befriending people in prison can improve their chances of reentering society successfully, discovers Figen Gunes. //

“Prison has a poor record for reducing re-offending. The re-offending rate is 46 per cent for adults in general. As for young people, 58 % of  those released from prison in the first quarter of 2008 were reconvicted within a year.  Befriending can be a powerful tool to reduce reoffending, “says Chris Thomas, chief executive of the New Bridge Foundation, the only national befriending service for prisoners.

What is unique to New Bridge is obvious to Thomas: “We will keep in touch with the prisoners if they asked for non-judgemental company. Average length of time for befriending is 10 years. Only a tiny handful of prisoners will never be released – most will be back in the community one day.”

Although academic research carried out by Birmingham City University concluded New Bridge’s service has been vital for offenders to reduce isolation behind bars, New Bridge is trying to survive amid fund cuts.

“Befriending helps offenders to be a better person. We knew that but until last year we didn’t have any hard evidence. The report by Birmingham City University confirmed that prisoners’ sense of self-worth is increased through befriending and it helps them to challenge their attitude to their offences and victims. Having a job or a house help but most importantly someone in the community can offer a positive way of life to inmates. It is easy to slip back and become a re-offender otherwise,” Thomas goes on.

According to the report carried out in 2012, 67 per cent of prisoners befriended by NewBridge are serving life or indeterminate sentences. 87 per cent said their expectations about the service reducing isolation had been either met or somewhat met.

“Meeting people out of my comfort zone is very enlightening and challenging me in a good way,” says Suzy Lamont, 63, one of the volunteers at New Bridge.  “I deal with offenders whose family disowned them and they have no one apart from prison staff and legal advisors.” Lamont says that for anyone who sees life in black and white, this is a great role to learn not to be judgemental. She has been part of the charity for more than five years and is in contact with two sexual offenders. Being a member of the Royal College of Surgeons she juggles work and volunteering. “One of the prisoners I befriend was abused as a child. It just shows how people can be lead to criminal activity through things they faced in their early years,” she adds.

New Bridge also publishes the UK-wide inmates’ newspaper  Inside Time which started in 1990 partly as a response to riots in Strangeways prison. After investigations, prisoners said they had no voice and no place to go to with their queries. That’s why several pages are given to prisoners to voice their opinions through their letters. Some prisoners are commissioned to write about their case stories.

Eighteen support groups based around the country engage 200 volunteers, of whom each befriend 2-3 prisoners. Each volunteer is asked to commit at least 18 months to provide stability for prisoners when they pass an interview process. Birmingham City University psychology and criminology students volunteer to gain experience in the field.

Short-term prisoners at HMP Brixton are supported by a “through the gate” programme at New Bridge which helps HMP Brixton them adapt to the outside world by creating a small community around them towards their release.

Another initiative of the foundation is a Learning Shop” which runs in Low Newton Prison, Durham. Two full time staff work there to provide a quiet place for vulnerable women to start learning. Courses offered cover personal development, reading and writing skills. Also, women are encouraged to record stories for their children, which are sent home, helping them maintain vital links with their family. Art activities are also a big part of life in the Learning Shop, with works submitted for Koestler Trust awards and participation in local festivals.

New Bridge was co-founded by the celebrated prison reformer Lord Longford. He befriended many prisoners during his long life, including Moors Murderer Myra Hindley.  He died in 2001.


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