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), and the criminal justice system continues to target and criminalize queer, trans and gender non-conforming people. We also know that queer, trans and gender non-conforming people are often subject to increased isolation, harassment and violence when in prison. This is why organisations like us, who specifically support LGBTQ+ people in prison are so important.

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

About the Organising Collective

The Bent Bars Project is organised by a small collective who meet weekly on a volunteer basis to keep the project running.

What we do

  • We directly link LGBTQ people across prison walls by matching LGBTQ people inside prison with LGBTQ people outside prison as pen-pals.
  • We produce a newsletter written for and by LGBTQ prisoners
  • We host events for pen pals on the outside
  • We visit prisons on the UK to tell people about the project
  • 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 hierarchies.
  • 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.

We encourage anyone who is interested in the project to read this statement, but we want to emphasise that you do not need to agree with all of our principles to become a penpal. This statement is an ongoing work in progress so we welcome feedback and discussion.