Making it possible for volunteers to write safely to prisoners, giving friendship, hope – and a reminder of the outside world.

Note: Please do NOT send emails asking to join as volunteers, as we are not currently recruiting.

Prisoners' Penfriends was formed to build on the prisoner-penpal scheme created by the Prison Reform Trust.
It is approved by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, and provides a confidential forwarding service, with guidelines, training and advice for our carefully selected volunteers.

We started work in April 2004; we have now sent over 30,000 letters.

View Prisoners' Penfriends Privacy Notice


- About Prisoners’ Penfriends -

“What has being a penfriend meant? To start with, I would have to say that it’s really lifted my spirits greatly. I’ve even received birthday and Xmas cards from my wonderful penfriend who is really amazing and if it wasn’t for your scheme I really don’t think that I would have still been around for long because of not being able to cope at all.”
...This is typical of what our prisoner-penfriends say about our scheme.

Prisoners’ Penfriends was established as a charity in 2003. From the start, we have worked with the approval and support of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and we work with prison officers and prison chaplains to seek out lonely prisoners who need a life-line to the outside world. Not only do we cheer the prisoners up; having a supporter such as a volunteer penfriend can help change their lives:
“The scheme is likely to raise prisoners’ chances of rehabilitation, through connecting them with the outside (non-criminal ) world, through providing someone who acccepts them as more than just ‘an offender’ and shows belief in their capacity for change.”
From Imagining More than Just a Prisoner: the work of Prisoners’ Penfriends, University of Warwick, 2015.

Since taking over the small penpal scheme run by the Prison Reform Trust, we have expanded from just a couple of penfriendships to supervising 200 correspondences at a time – so that, over the last 12 months, we have been penfriends with 317 prisoners. In our early days, we would forward a few letters each week; but now, the flow of letters is greater with every month that passes: we have forwarded 4,371 letters in 2017 and the total of letters which have passed through our hands since 2004 now stands at over 30,000.
What makes us special is that we supervise the scheme extremely closely: all post is forwarded via our post-box and all our volunteers’ letters are carefully checked before they are sent on. We also train our volunteers, provide them with guidelines and are always on hand for discussion and advice. To quote another of our prisoner-penfriends:

“Having a penfriend makes life so much better than being alone.
I am never alone now as I have a great penfriend I write to.”

To see more about what Penfriends has achieved, see

report of independent research by the University of Warwick


- Prisoners say... -

I feel great getting letters from someone. Being a penfriend has meant a lot, making a new friend, getting letters where otherwise I would not, feeling wanted and cared about, knowing we can’t meet up but we can always write to each other when down. Everyone in prison should be made aware of Penfriends.

I have made a good friend who has got very similar interests to me and, although we have never met, I feel like I have known my penfriend all of my life. She always encourages me and receiving her letters always fills me with excitement and positivity. This is a fantastic service which has helped me through my sentence. A massive thank you.

Writing to my penfriend has been a real pleasure. It has also helped me to keep my writing and talking skills going, as in prison most things are held back or not used. It has brought a sense of mind freedom and on occasions a real good laugh.

It means a lot having a friend to talk to on the outside. Thank you for the opportunity to have used this service.

A great help during my sentence, a friend by post which can help when we are having bad days (in prison almost every day is a bad day). Thank you, Penfriends.

- Volunteers say... -

He thinks of me as a friend, and is pleased someone cares. I think it might help him that someone is interested in what he has to say.
I hope it makes him believe there will be some sympathetic people out there on release.
I think it may have increased his confidence in his literacy.

This has been very rewarding. I really have enjoyed receiving the letters as well as writing them. I’ve found it interesting finding out about prison life (and the kind of things the inmates do to keep morale up) and corresponding with a person outside of my social circle. I think we kept the correspondence very light (mostly) and so would talk about everyday things like entertainment and biscuits!

I have enjoyed writing the letters and looked forward to receiving the replies, and hope that in some small way I have made a difference. This prisoner seems very appreciative and often says 'looking forward to your next letter'.

- Our Patrons say... -

Penfriendships can develop into stable personal relationships – a key factor in helping prisoners to lead useful and law-abiding lives.

Lord Ramsbotham, former Chief Inspector of Prisons

Total isolation is something most of us only experience through the imaginations of great artists. Prisoners Penfriends helps bring back into the community those whose isolation is real. It performs a real and valuable service.

Sir Nicholas Hytner, Artistic Director of the National Theatre

A good correspondent is a window onto a wider, hopeful world beyond the prison gate

Sir Peter Lloyd, former prisons minister

In the five years of my captivity as a Hostage in the Middle East thousands of people wrote to me. They sent letters and cards to the British Embassy or to the Red Cross but not one got through as, of course, being a hostage no one knew where to deliver them. However, one day a guard entered my cell and dropped something by my side. When he left and I removed my blindfold I was more than surprised to see that he had left a postcard….. I am delighted to become a patron and supporter of Prisoner’s Penfriends because I know just how much a simple communication with someone on the outside can help. It was a long time before I could actually reply to the card that was sent to me but Prisoners’ Penfriends make it possible for there to be a regular exchange of letters between prisoners and their penfriends. In my case a few short sentences on a small postcard made all the difference.

Terry Waite C.B.E.

- Those Working in Prisons say... -

The Prisoners’ Penfriends scheme provides a vital link to the community to prisoners who are feeling isolated and alone. The opportunity to write and receive letter gives them a sense of purpose and hope for the future. The scheme is well managed and ensures that both the penfriend and the prisoner are supported and safeguarded throughout.

Lynn Saunders O.B.E., Governor, HMP Whatton and Patron

A well designed and trustworthy scheme that gives prisoners a lifeline and doesn’t burden chaplains with a lot of extra work!

Elizabeth Turnbull, Quaker chaplain, HMP Foston Hall

- Newsletters -

Click the links below to load a newsletter inside the above window, or right-click and open in new tab.

- Contact Penfriends -

Note: We are NOT currently recruiting for any additional volunteers.
Please do not send emails requesting to join as a volunteer.

Patrons: Sir Peter Lloyd, Lord Ramsbotham, Sir Nicholas Hytner, Peter Moffat, Lynn Saunders O.B.E. and Terry Waite C.B.E.
Trustees: Stephen Pollard (chair), Jennifer Gadsby-Peet, Shane Holland.
Director and company secretary: Gwyn Morgan O.B.E. Company no: 4629036. Charity no: 1098118.