By Christopher Stacey, Chief Executive of Prisoners Abroad

I am incredibly excited and proud to have become the new Chief Executive of Prisoners Abroad. After being offered the position in November last year, I am writing this after being in post for just over three months, having started at the charity in mid-May. 

Under Pauline Crowe’s leadership over the last 20 years, Prisoners Abroad has established itself as an incredibly well respected charity that puts compassion and human rights at the forefront of its work to support British people in prisons overseas, their families, and those returning to the UK after serving a sentence abroad. I am thrilled to be able to build on this solid foundation and lead the charity in its next phase.

I have worked in the criminal justice voluntary sector for over 15 years. I spent 13 years working (and eight years as co-director) at the independent charity Unlock, an advocacy organisation focused on supporting people to overcome the challenges caused by their criminal record. At Unlock, I led the development of the charity’s award-winning support services for people with convictions, including a national helpline, online information hub and innovative tools to support people to navigate the challenges they face because of their criminal record. I also developed and led a number of campaigns and policy initiatives and achieved systemic change through reforms to legislation and changes in policy and practice.

More recently I was Director of Support and Development at Clinks, an infrastructure charity where my role was to lead a team that supported and connected voluntary organisations working in criminal justice. Prior to working in the voluntary sector, I gained an LLB law degree and an LLM masters in criminal law.

It was also at that time, as a student in my late teens, that I made some silly decisions and ended up gaining my own personal experience of the criminal justice system by being arrested, convicted and receiving a suspended prison sentence. Everyone’s experience of criminal justice is different, particularly depending on where you are in the world, and my experience nearly 20 years ago does not remotely compare to being detained in a prison overseas. It has, however, been instrumental in shaping what I have gone on to do. A criminal record never truly leaves you – it can have an impact on your life in so many ways – and it’s a big part of what set me on a path to do what I could to support people that come into contact with the criminal justice system.

I have long admired the work of Prisoners Abroad. The charity has continued to punch above its weight in terms of its impact, and so I am honoured to take on this role. Prisoners Abroad is a truly unique charity – one that has a proud history and was set up in 1978 in response to a very clear need.

In these first three months, I have enjoyed learning more about our work, our history, the challenges and the opportunities. A few key things stand out to me. Firstly, our vision and mission very much remains relevant today, more so now than ever, and helping people is what drives me. The humanity, injustice and sometimes simplicity of what we at Prisoners Abroad are advocating on behalf of people for – for example, clean water, medical supplies and other basic essentials – connects with my passion for tackling injustices. At Prisoners Abroad we make no judgement, and we provide the humanitarian welfare support that protects people’s rights, caring about everyone, no matter why they are in prison.

Secondly, we do work that no other organisation is doing, which is much needed by our beneficiaries. So a big focus for me is ensuring that our crucial services are enhanced and strengthened. That means making sure that we’ve got the funding in place to underpin the work that we currently do, given so many people really do depend on it. I am also interested in how we need to develop in the future so that we can best support and advocate for people affected by overseas imprisonment.

Thirdly, there are some very real challenges in what we do. As technology in prisons worldwide develop, maintaining contact and sending our materials in to prisons is becoming a challenge. And for those that return to the UK, ensuring that our resettlement service is able to get them connected with the services that they need to build a path for a positive future is increasingly difficult, but I am impressed by the commitment by our staff team in constantly looking to understand these challenges and work on identifying solutions.

Finally, our supporters are incredible, and I want to thank each and every one of them for their support.

Their compassion and generosity makes a very real difference to people’s lives. I’ve been humbled to get to know more about those that donate to our cause and help us to ensure that we are genuinely able to ensure that our support services respond and meet the needs of those who need it most. 

It has been particularly heartening to see all those who have rallied round our Radio 4 appeal this summer, and perhaps what has been most encouraging has been seeing donations arrive from a mix of known supporters as well as from people who are discovering our cause for the first time. It is simply amazing to think of the impact the donations that we receive will have for those we are supporting: people who depend on our survival grants for nutritious food, safe drinking water and emergency medical care to make it through each day in prison overseas. No charity is immune from the very real financial and societal challenges that we face today, and these impact significantly on our service users every day too.

 As an organisation, we have a responsibility to ensure that we are doing all that we can to support and advocate for the people that need us, and through our committed and talented team of staff, trustees and volunteers, I am excited to build on our strong foundations and I am confident and optimistic about the future.

Being offered a lifeline can change everything. 

Prisoners Abroad translates human rights law into practical life-saving actions by providing prisoners access to vitamins and essential food, emergency medical care, freepost envelopes to keep in touch with home and books and magazines to help sustain mental health.

Can you help to support our life-saving work by donating today?