BTG Penpal Scheme
Bridging the Gap (BTG) offers advice and help to people wishing to write to prisoners in the UK. BTG currently oversees over 3000 penpals.
Do please read the information below carefully. Take time to consider if writing to an inmate is really what you wish to do.
Most of us enjoy receiving a letter or two, especially from friends, but some prisoners' family and friends on the outside cut them off because they are in prison. Not all inmates will have sincere motives, so be cautious and do not disclose your address. BTG strongly advises you to use a safe address. You are welcome to use BTG's safe address; Bridging the Gap, C/o SMCA, Cobham Court, Haslemere Avenue, Mitcham, CR4 3PR, our budget is limited we can only forward mail to UK addresses, therefore the inmate can be anywhere in the world, but the recipients can only use the safe address if they live within the UK. You can also use your local church, office, factory etc.
Many rules apply to prisoners writing letters, but some prisoners will try to break the rules and manipulate well intentioned people. BTG has found that by informing penpals from the start about what a prisoner is allowed to do or not allowed to do, give much protection and diminishes opportunities for prisoners to manipulate penpals. Never try to bend the rules, it could result in suffering; privileges or communication rights can be reduced or stopped to the detriment of the prisoner.
Are there any restrictions to who can be a penpal?
BTG will seek more information where needed to determine the suitability of prisoners and people applying to be penpals. BTG reserves the right to terminate an association with any penpal or prisoner about whom the company has any concerns. Penpals must be over 18 as, in our experience; persons under the age of eighteen years are too vulnerable.
What do I write?
We would encourage you to write about ordinary everyday things even if they seem trivial. Getting letters in prison is a lifeline - prison is an artificial environment and keeping in touch with the outside world is of great value. For prisoners serving longer sentences, keeping up with happenings in the world outside is of vital importance to prepare for their release back into society. Please don't make promises which you may not be able to fulfil, however strong the temptation. 'Knockbacks' on issues such as parole, education, transfer, etc. are an everyday occurrence in prison and it is not fair to add to this climate of disappointment.
Extra thoughts sharing your Faith.
Letters that preach can be off-putting and may not help in the way intended. By all means let an inmate know about your own faith as part of sharing every-day news of yourself, your family and what you do during the week. BTG's advice is simply to 'be yourself' and seek to build up trust; the rest should flow on from there.
Sending things in to prisoners.
Most prisons allow you to send in books, drawing materials, some clothes, postal orders, stamped addressed envelopes, etc. However, it is important that you contact the prison first before you send anything, just in case there is a problem. If you do send something in, we strongly advise that you mention it in your letter. Please do not become the victim of pressure to send in any item; you are not allowed to send in any food and cigarettes. If your letter writing leads to a request for you to visit, then that will be up to you. Importantly - if you are in any doubt, please ask before you act. Please contact us if you want any more information about visiting prisoners.
If you want to use BTG to receive your letters, please write and tell us. When we receive letters for you we will forward them to you. We can be contacted at: Bridging the Gap, C/o SMCA, Cobham Court, Haslemere Avenue, Mitcham, CR4 3PR. Our phone number is 020 8090 1486. Or click on the "Contact Us" link at the bottom of the page to send us an email.
Unconvicted prisoners can send out two free letters every week - the prison pays the postage. If they want to send more, they can buy letters from the canteen. There is normally no limit to how many letters they can receive. The envelopes will be opened, but the letters not read; this is to make sure they do not contain anything that is not allowed
Convicted prisoners can send out one free letter every week. They can send out as many other letters as they wish, but this is at their own expense. In many prisons they are allowed to receive stamps, envelopes and writing paper to help cut down their costs. Always check with the particular prison to make sure of their regulations.
High security prisoners.
Unlike other prisons, mail received into high security prisons is censored by Prison Staff. For example, at prisons such as Frankland, Full Sutton, Long Lartin, and Wakefield, mail is opened and sometimes read.
If a prisoner has no private cash, the prison will pay for the postage on letters connected with the defence of their case. These letters will normally be sent first class. They can ask for extra free letters:-
· to write to their Probation Officer
· if they have family problems
· if they have just been convicted and need to sort out business problems
· Ii they are appealing against their sentence or taking other legal action
· if they are arranging a job or somewhere to live on their release.
Rules about letters.
In general, the rules about letters are that they must NOT:-
· discuss escape plans or say anything which affects prison security
· help someone commit a criminal offence or an offence against prison rules
· contain threats or blackmail
· affect national security, e.g. instructions for making a weapon or coded messages
· say anything racially offensive or obscene.
If the prison suspects that either the penpal or the prisoner is breaking any of the rules, letters can be stopped. From time to time, the Governor can order all mail to be routinely read. If this happens, or if you are writing to a prisoner in a maximum security prison, the following rules may also apply:-
· all letters that the prisoner sends out or receives, can be read by prison staff
· letters can be limited to 4 sides of A5 and a maximum number of letters can be set.
In this case, prison staff can choose which letter to read and others will be sent back. If these rules apply to the prisoner you are writing to, they will be allowed to buy at least one extra letter at Christmas and up to 12 Christmas cards and stamps from the canteen.
Writing to a solicitor.
Letters to and from the prisoner's solicitor should not be read or stopped by anyone in the Prison Service. However, they can be stopped if someone in the prison thinks that they may be a security risk or to break the law in some way. If this is the case, then the prisoner will be told. The prisoner should write on the envelopes of these letters 'Prison Rule 37A'. This is the prison rule which covers legal letters. The prisoner should then seal the envelope before they hand it in. When a solicitor writes to a prisoner, they should mark the envelope with the prisoners name and number, their own address and phone number, and 'Prison Rule 37A'. They should then sign the envelope and put it into another envelope and post it to the Governor of the prison. (If they prefer not to mark the inner envelope in this way, they can write a covering letter to the Governor instead.)
If the prison thinks that the prisoner is abusing this rule, they can open the envelopes and read the letters, but the prisoner should be there while they do it. Prison Rule 37A also applies to letters to and from a court, including the European Court or the Commission of Human Rights. Letters to courts should be marked in the same way - 'Prison Rule 37A'.
Other protected correspondence includes letters to the Samaritans, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, the Prisons Ombudsman and the Prisoners' Advice Service. If a convicted prisoner is appealing against their sentence, correspondence between them and the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) should also be treated by the Prison Service as legally privileged correspondence. The prisoner should seal their letter and write 'Standing Order 5B 35A' with their name on the back.
Writing articles and letters to be published.
Prisoners are allowed to write letters to newspapers, contribute to radio and television programmes, or submit articles to be published, as long as:-
· they do not write about their own offence or past offences (unless it is a serious comment about crime, justice, conviction, sentence or the penal system)
· they do not write about other people's offences (unless it is a serious comment about crime, justice, conviction, sentence or the penal system)
· they do not write about individual prisoners or members of staff who could be identified
· they do not break any of the rules about letters
· they do not get any payment (unless they are unconvicted).
Other information about letters.
A prisoner must get permission to write to:-
· another prisoner at a different prison (unless they are writing to a close relative or co-defendant about their trial or sentence)
· the victim of their offence or their family
· somewhere to advertise publicly for a pen friend.
The prison cannot stop a prisoner writing to their MP, their lawyer, their husband, wife, partner, fiancé(e), parent, child, brother or sister. But if any of these relatives ask the Prison Service to stop sending the prisoner's letters to them, they will be asked to stop writing. The prisoner will be able to discuss this with prison staff. If a letter is stopped for any reason, the prisoner will be given an explanation and another letter so that they can re-write it. An inmate can write in any language unless they are a category A prisoner. If an inmate wants to send letters abroad their free letters will be sent by surface mail, but they can pay to make up the difference to air mail.