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Real work in prison

The Howard League is a Centre of Excellence for real work in prison. We operate a knowledge hub that disseminates the findings of our work and influences others who are introducing business behind bars.

Most work for prisoners is low-skilled, poorly paid and often only patchily available. It does nothing to show prisoners that work can pay, rather than crime.

Determined to change this, the Howard League launched a unique graphic design studio in 2005. Based in Coldingley prison, ‘Barbed’ was the first such social enterprise to operate in a UK prison and was possibly the first of its kind in the world. Prisoners were recruited and trained as graphic designers. They received a real wage and paid tax and national insurance.

We ran a business inside a prison, reviewed international practice, conducted research in the UK and published our findings. Now we have set up a Centre of Excellence to advise government and the private sector on how to implement real work for prisoners. We are working with prisons, MPs, select committees, financial institutions and business leaders.

Prison work and social enterprise: the story of Barbed is an independent evaluation of the project, published in 2008.

Barbed: what happened next charts the impact of the Barbed social enterprise on those who trained, worked and supervised in the graphic design studio in the months following its closure.

Business Behind Bars: making real work in prison real outlines a blueprint for how real work in prison can flourish in a transformed prison system. Alongside this report, we published polling which demonstrated broad public support for the concept.

If you are interested in real work in prison and need our expert advice then contact us at

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