Thursday 15th of February 2018

Are you curious about prison abolition? Want to learn more?

Bent Bars is involved with a monthly reading group to explore and discuss prison abolition.  

This group will meet in London, but readings are available online so people can follow along individually, or host your own group wherever you are based.

These are drop-in sessions and you are welcome to attend as many or as few as you like.


Introduction to Penal Abolition: A social movement, a practice, a way of life
6-8pm Tuesday 13 February 2018
Venue:  Birkbeck, University of London

What’s wrong with reform? What are non-reformist reforms?
6-8pm Tuesday 27 March 2018
Venue: Birkbeck, University of London

Feminist, queer, antiracist approaches to abolition
6-8pm Tuesday 17 April 2018
Venue: Birkbeck, University of London

Transformative justice & abolition
6-8pm Tuesday 15 May 2018
Venue: Birkbeck, University of London

The reading group is part of the lead-up to the Abolitionist Futures conference, which Bent Bars is involved in co-organising. For more information about the reading group, and to access the readings, click here

Tuesday 12th of December 2017

The 3rd annual International Trans Prisoner Day of Action is coming up soon (Jan 22nd) and the organisers are once again planning to create a ‘zine of writing and artwork by trans prisoners from around the world.

If you are writing to a trans prisoner, please consider encouraging them to submit a contribution. Reflections, essays, poetry, artwork and other writings are welcome.

Please send submissions to:

MonkeyWrench Books

c/o Austin ABC
110 North Loop Blvd E.

Austin, TX 78751


Along with your submission, please include a brief bio if you would like, along with whether or not you would like to publish your mailing address. 

The finished zine will be sent to all trans prisoners, free of charge, who request a copy.  The zine will also be sent to info-shops, bookstores and community centers. 



Thursday 26th of January 2017

The Bent Bars Collective has signed a public letter, published in the Guardian, calling for a moratorium on prison expansion in England and Wales.

"We are calling for an immediate moratorium on prison construction and a national debate on how to build a safer society and secure communities in stead of continuing with a failed policy of criminal justice expansion. We need to build safe and healthy communities - not prisons."

To read the full letter and list of signatories:

Thursday 26th of January 2017

A big thank you to everyone who supported the Vigil for Trans Prisoners that took place on Sunday 22 January 2017 outside Pentonville Prison, London. Around 100 people gathered together to listen to readings from queer and trans prisoners, speeches from community organisers and lighting of candles for all those inside prison.

To see photos and read Kuchenga's incredible speech (co-written by Imani Robinson), please check out the report in Huck Magazine.

Vice also ran an article with many beautiful photos.

There was also a positive report in the Independent (but readers should beware that the comments following the article are hostile).

Bent Bars was heartened by all the support shown at the vigil and the growing momentum around calls to reduce the harms of imprisonment in our communities. 


Photo by: Christopher Bethel.

Thursday 5th of January 2017

Wishing you the best for 2017

Happy letter writing to everyone inside and out!

Monday 10th of October 2016

Is there a link between how we’re divided into populations that can be caged and exiled by the prison-industrial complex, and the ways people’s bodies are violently categorised and segregated by race, class, gender or ability?

Over 3 days Episode 8 celebrates all the unruly ways we refuse to be defined by such violence, escape attempts to constrain us, tear down the walls of normative culture and build joy in flight.

Featuring: performances, discussions, screenings, workshop and a club with gender non-conforming rebels, students of blackness, lawyers, archivists, anarco-feminist street artists and witches, party hosts, filmmakers, prison abolitionists, poets, DJ’s, ex-prisoners and multi-media artists including:

Joshua Allen | boychild | Kai Lumumba Barrow | English Collective of Prostitutes | Elysia Crampton | Glasgow Open Dance School | Che Gossett | Reina Gossett | Juliana Huxtable | CeCe McDonald | Miss Major | Mujeres Creando | Sondra Perry | Scot-Pep | Dean Spade | Eric A Stanley | Umbrella Lane | We Will Rise

For more info:

Saturday 9th of April 2016

Garden Court Chambers in association with City University London, and Birkbeck, University of London are co-hosting an afternoon workshop on TransJustice.


Current challenges faced by trans and gender non-conforming people in the criminal justice system

Friday 20 May 2016, 14:00 - 18:30

Venue: Garden Court Chambers

57-60 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3LJ

Recent cases such as R v Newland [2015], the detention of trans women in male prisons, and the recent deaths of two trans people in British prisons have gained significant media attention and raised important public debates around sexuality, gender identity and the criminal justice system. These cases have highlighted a range of pressing issues of current law, policy and practice.

This workshop aims to build alliances between practitioners, scholars and organisers and to devise strategies for addressing the urgent problems faced by trans and gender non-conforming people in the criminal justice system.

This workshop will cover:

  • The effect of non-disclosure of gender identity and history on the validity of sexual consent (i.e. so-called ‘gender deception’ prosecutions)
  • The placement of trans detainees within gender-segregated facilities
  • The Ministry of Justice’s Review of the Guidelines on the Care & Treatment of Transsexual Prisoners
  • Detainees’ access to care and treatment
  • Self-harm and suicide in prison
  • The persistent problem of homophobia and transphobia within the criminal justice system more generally

Who should attend?

Barristers, solicitors, academics, community organisers and activists working in these areas.

Speakers include:

The building is wheelchair accessible and the room in which the seminar is held is accessible by lift. There are wheelchair-accessible and gender-neutral single-stall toilets. If you have any specific accessibility requirements, please contact

For more information and/or to register:

Thursday 4th of February 2016

The Ministry of Justice announced that it will be undertaking a review of the Prison Service's Guidelines on 'The care and treatment of transgender prisoners'.

If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person who has been in prison or if you are writing to a trans or gender-nonconforming person in prison you may be interested in participating in the review.

Background: In 2011, the Ministry of Justice issued mandatory guidelines (PSI 07/2011) on ‘The Care and Management of Transsexual Prisoners’. Written to comply with the Equality Act 2010, the 20-page guidelines identify a number of duties and responsibilities that prisons must fulfil to respect the rights of trans-identified prisoners. The guidelines cover issues such as the placement of trans identified prisoners within the 'male' and 'female' prison estate, access to gender-appropriate clothing, access to medical care and bullying and harassment. 

A number of concerns have been raised about the guidelines and the Ministry is undertaking a review. 

If you are writing to a trans* or gender-nonconforming person in prison, we encourage you to write to your penpal and let them know about the review.

The Bent Bars Collective recognises that there are various reasons why individuals and groups may or may not wish to participate in this review and we fully respect those different choices. Regardless of those different positions, we feel it's important for trans and gender nonconforming people in prison to be informed of the review so they can make a choice about whether they would like to participate.

Ways to participate in the Review:

Online Survey:

Comment by Email:

Written Responses by Post: Address to George Barrow, Transgender Review, Ministry of Justice (4.12), 102 Petty France, London SW1P 9AH

The terms of reference of the review are available here:

If you are writing to someone in prison to let them know about the review, we encourage you to mail them a printed copy of the terms of reference or encourage them to share their experiences of how they are treated in prison as a trans or gender nonconforming person. 

Responses are due by: 24 February 2016.

Monday 7th of December 2015

Bent Bars Collective Statement (5 December 2015)

We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Vicky Thompson in Leeds prison on 13th November 2015 and the death of Joanne Latham in Woodhill prison on 27th November 2015. These apparent suicides, at least one of which was in direct response to being incarcerated in a sexgender inappropriate prison, represent significant losses in our trans*[1] communities. Although we were not in communication with Vicky or Joanne, their situations are familiar to us and have resonances with the experiences of many trans* and sexgender nonconforming people in prison who contact the Bent Bars Project.

We wish to extend our condolences to both Vicky’s and Joanne’s loved ones and to all those affected by their deaths. These are losses that have been felt and mourned across our broad communities.

We are heartened by the public response of concern in the aftermath of these women’s deaths. Too often, issues faced by prisoners are neglected, ignored or sensationalised in the media. So it is crucial that the wider public be made aware of what is happening in our prisons in order for these issues to be properly addressed. At the same time, we feel the focus of discussions needs to be widened to address larger issues surrounding the incarceration of trans* people specifically and the harms of imprisonment more generally. This is an important moment to discuss these issues and in particular we would like to raise the following points:

We need a public discussion about the harms caused by imprisonment.

Much of the discussion to date has called upon government authorities to recognise trans* people’s self-defined sexgender identities when determining their placement within institutional settings. This is a crucial demand, particularly in prisons where basic survival is often a struggle. At the same time, such recognition is not enough to keep people safe. There have been 216 deaths in prison so far in 2015, 77 of which were self-inflicted.[2] Preventable deaths; high rates of self-harm, mental illness and distress; cultures of fear and intimidation; and other forms of violence are problems that exist in all prisons. Putting someone in a sexgender ‘appropriate’ institution may lessen some hardships of being locked up, but it doesn’t address the pervasive issues of violence, harm and inequality that exist across all prisons.

We need to be wary of assuming that policy change alone will be enough to address problems of transphobia and inequality within prisons.

Media commentaries have focused on the need to review the prison ‘Guidelines on the Care and Treatment of Transsexual Prisoners’, which formally expired earlier this year. Revising the guidelines is a much needed step in improving conditions for trans* prisoners, but the fundamental assumptions that underpin the guidelines must also be questioned. The guidelines rely on a narrow, medicalised model of sexgender identity, and don’t take into account identities beyond the normative female/male binary. The policies thereby deny recognition of non-binary identified people and prohibit more complex understandings of individual transition processes and journeys. But more importantly, policy change alone will never be enough to address the underlying problems of inequality in the criminal justice system.  We know all too well – as do prisoners and their families, prisoners’ rights advocates and lawyers – that the gap between policy and practice in the prison system is wide. We regularly receive letters from trans* and gender nonconforming people describing how difficult it is to access very basic entitlements and how little recourse they have to defend their rights. So while policy change is important, it must be backed by meaningful action, advocacy and wider public scrutiny.

We need to ask why so many trans* people are in prison.

In addition to asking why trans* people are being held in the wrong prison, we need to ask why so many trans* people are being sent to prison at all. Although we do not know exactly how many trans* people are imprisoned in the UK, we believe that trans* and sexgender nonconforming people are over-represented in the prison population. During the six years that we have been running the Bent Bars Project, we have received countless letters from trans* and sexgender nonconforming people whose stories of imprisonment are often closely linked to prior experiences of inequality and discrimination. If we want to prevent deaths in prison, we must confront the wider issues that contribute to the disproportionate imprisonment of so many people from disadvantaged and marginalised communities.

We need to prioritise effective and meaningful alternatives to prison.

Between June 1993 and June 2012 the prison population in England and Wales increased by 41,800 prisoners to over 86,000.[3]  This dramatic rise in the prison population was primarily caused by changes to sentencing policy and practice, which funnelled more and more people into the prison system for longer periods of time. The public has been led to believe that the size of our prison population is inevitable and necessary for safety, but this is simply not true. There are hundreds of alternative measures that better prevent, reduce and respond to harm, which are drastically underutilised. The best way to reduce deaths in prison is to reduce the number of people that are sent to prison in the first place.

-- Bent Bars Collective (5 December 2015)


Bent Bars is a letter-writing project for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and gender nonconforming prisoners in Britain. We aim to develop stronger connections and build solidarity with queer/trans communities inside and outside prison walls.

[1] We use the term trans* to recognise a diversity of identities and expressions within the sexgender spectrum, particularly referring to people whose sexgender identity and/or expression is different from their assigned sexgender at birth. This includes but is not limited to: transgender, transsexual, transvestite, genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, two-spirit, transmen, transwomen and gender nonconforming people.

Thursday 5th of November 2015

Reclaim Justice Network Event

Abolition or Reform: Dismantling Criminal Justice

6:30-9:00pm Thursday 19 November 2015

Central London, venue to be confirmed 

If prisons and police are an inadequate solution to social problems, to what extent can the system be reformed or should it be abolished altogether?  
Speakers include:
Stephen Akpabio-Klementowski (PhD Student, The Open University)
Bree Carlton (Monash University, Australia)
Deborah Coles (Inquest)
Empty Cages Collective
London Campaign Against Police and State Violence
Erica R Meiners (Northeastern University Illinois, USA
Neena Samota (StopWatch)
Bent Bars members may be particularly interested in hearing Bree Carleton and Erica Meiners speak as both have done extensive work on issues of gender and sexuality in prisons in Australia and the USA respectively.  Both are visiting from abroad so this is a great opportunity to hear them speak along with the line-up of other fantastic speakers.
For more info (and to download a poster):