About

About the Project

The Bent Bars Project is a letter-writing project for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, gender-variant, intersex, and queer prisoners in Britain. The project was founded in 2009, responding to a clear need to develop stronger connections and build solidarity between LGBTQ communities inside and outside prison walls. 

LGBTQ people have a long history of being policed and criminalised (and of resisting that criminalistion) yet there are relatively few community resources to support LGBTQ prisoners. Although there are many LGBTQ community groups in Britain, most do not specifically address the issues of LGBTQ prisoners. Likewise, many prisoner support groups do not address the specific issues faced by LGBTQ people behind bars. 

Although most overtly homophobic and transphobic laws have been overturned in Britain, the criminal justice system continues to target and criminalize queer, trans and gender non-conforming people. We don’t know exactly how many LGBTQ people are currently behind bars, but we do know queer, trans and gender non-conforming people, particularly those from poor backgrounds and communities of colour, are disproportionately funneled into the prison system as a result of systemic discrimination, inequality and social exclusion.  We also know that queer, trans and gender non-conforming people are often subject to increased isolation, harassment, violence and assault when in prison.

Bent Bars aims to work in solidarity with prisoners by sharing resources, providing mutual support and drawing public attention to the struggles of queer and trans people behind bars.

The project also collects and distributes information for LGBTQ prisoners on a range of issues, including harm reduction practices (safer sex, safer drug-use), HIV and HepC prevention, homophobia, transphobia, coming out in prison, etc.

 

About the Organising Collective

The Bent Bars Project is organised by a small collective of people, which meet weekly on a volunteer basis to keep the project running. The following statement explains how and why the Collective organises the project.  The Bent Bars Collective encourages anyone who is interested in the project to read our statement, but we want to emphasise that you do not need to agree with all of our principles in order to participate in the project or become a penpal.

 

What we do

  • We directly link LGBTQ people across prison walls by matching LGBTQ people inside prison with LGBTQ people outside prison as penpal friends.
  • We produce a newsletter written for and by LGBTQ prisoners
  • We host letter writing meetings and other events for penpals
  • We collect, produce and distribute resources for LGBTQ prisoners
 

Our Aims

  • To develop stronger connections and build solidarity among LGBTQ people across prison walls
  • To reduce the isolation and increase empowerment of LGBTQ people inside and outside prison
  • To generate awareness about issues faced by LGBTQ prisoners
  • To facilitate LGBTQ prisoners voices being heard
  • To provide a supportive space for people to discuss issues around imprisonment
  • To challenge the values and assumptions that allow the current prison system to be maintained
 

Organising Principles

  • The project is motivated by a politics of solidarity, exchange and mutual support not charity or help.
  • The project is informed by prisoner experience, involvement and perspectives.
  • We make decisions collectively and work to prevent hierarcharies.
  • We support all LGBTQ prisoners regardless of charge or conviction.
  • We believe that prisons are not effective in holding people to account for their actions, healing harms or preventing violence. We believe that there are better strategies for addressing social problems.
  • We recognise that many LGBTQ people end up in the prison system as a result of interlinked patterns of discrimination, particularly racism, poverty and ableism. We aim to organise in ways that challenge these broader systems of inequality and social exclusion.

This statement is an ongoing work in progress so we welcome feedback and discussion.