New Bridge has provided support to people in prison since 1956. Our latest evaluation reviews the experience of incarcerated individuals befriended through New Bridge, evaluates the impact of the service on the lives of people in prison, and considers ways in which to improve the Befriending Service.

A total of 185 individuals contributed to the evaluation, serving predominately indeterminate and long determinate sentences for a range of categories of offence, including serious offences of a violent and sexual nature.  For 46% this was their first time in prison. Prior to contacting New Bridge 26% received no letters, visits or phone calls from anyone outside of prison.

The majority of participants (60%) found out about New Bridge through word of mouth. Others found out through advertisements in the Inside Time newspaper and leaflets in prison. When asked why they applied to New Bridge for a volunteer befriender, five key themes emerged: (1) access to non-judgemental support; (2) contact with someone outside the prison community and family; (3) to receive regular mail and visits; (4) to talk to someone with shared interests; and, (5) help to reduce feelings of isolation.

97% said that the information they received about the Befriending Service and how it worked was easy to understand. Some commented that they appreciated the interim letters that they received from New Bridge whilst waiting for a befriender. Overall, the majority of participants were satisfied that their expectations of the Befriending Service had been met or somewhat met. Participants said that New Bridge had positively affected their lives in prison and thoughts about the future:

  • Reduced feelings of isolation (92%)
  • Improved emotional health and well being (77%)
  • Boosted self-esteem and confidence (74%)
  • Better understanding of attitudes and behaviours (69%)
  • Gained motivation to contact friends, family, or people from other organisations (58%)

When asked if they would recommend this service to others that they have met in custody, 98% of participants said yes. Befriending was especially recommended for those who have no contact with the outside world.

Participants recommended that New Bridge should be promoted to all new arrivals during the induction process. Some also suggested that more awareness could be raised about Befriending through talks in prison, advertisements on prison notice boards and on National Prison Radio. Others proposed training people in prison to be New Bridge Reps, to promote the service and to share their experience.

Sophie Rowe, Birmingham City University

You can read the full report here