In the sometimes desperate and brutal surroundings of overseas jails, the Prisoners Abroad group provides a precious link with home. Now the hard work of the charity, which is currently supporting 1,040 inmates worldwide, has been recognised after winning the Longford Prize, sponsored by The Independent.
The award, named after the penal reformer Lord Longford who died in 2001, recognises "outstanding qualities of humanity, courage, persistence and originality".
The prize will come as a massive boost for the charity which was set up in 1978 to help travellers caught with drugs on the "hippie trail". They now support all those caught up in foreign penal systems, providing services that include helping to pay for bedding, inoculations or air travel for visiting relatives.
Pauline Crowe, the charity's chief executive, said: "Prisoners Abroad exists to safeguard the welfare and basic human rights of British citizens detained abroad. We attempt to alleviate the isolation and deprivation experienced by both prisoners abroad and their families in the UK. We also seek to prevent deprivation among Britons returning from abroad and assist them in building crime-free lives."
The charity sends 2,500 newspapers and 9,000 magazines a year, as well as birthday and Christmas cards and newsletters.
Conditions that the charity's caseworkers encounter are extremely varied, from the well-maintained prisons of Austria to those in Venezuela run by armed inmates. Of the 1,040 British prisoners that the charity supports, 275 are in the United States, 128 are in Spain, 70 are in France and 55 are in Thailand. Those unlucky enough to find themselves the only UK prisoner in an entire country include inmates in Namibia, Yemen, Vietnam and Norway.
Also commended at the awards were Joe Baden and the Open Book Project, which encourages ex-offenders back into education. The Forgiveness Project was also credited for its work with prisoners to tackle offending behaviour.