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Improving pathways for people out of prison environments

Client: InHouse Records
Scope: Design Reseach, System Design
Year: 2021

Read Time: 15 minutes

'The User Manual for Me' was another framework we used to break the ice and share a bit about ourselves, our needs and preferences. It was a visual we could return to throughout our time working together as a reminder of our individual perspective and commonalities.

'The Hiccups and Helpful Remedies' worksheet was a way for us to share hurdles that we struggle with most. Being vulnerable while meeting new people isn’t easy, however having already chatted it was clear from the beginning that our group of five was made up of kind non-judgemental people. Being able to share in a safe environment allowed us to open up and share our whole selves.

InHouse Records is a rehabilitative, multi-award winning record label that helps reduce recidivism rate. Their work in prisons has proven to exponentially increases positive behaviour [428%] and their impact on the outside is crystallised by a re-offending rate that is less than 1%. Working with Her Majesty's Prison & Probation Service & The Ministry of Justice they look to bring change in the most challenging circumstances.  They currently opperate in and out of UK Prisons accros South-West England.


Judah Armani, the founder of InHouse, wanted us to co-design a service process, signposting InHouse graduates to meaningful support and essential services while they continue on their pathway after leaving prison. We were asked, “how might we adequately support InHouse graduates in re-entering society?” Issues that were addressed specifically in the brief were that InHouse members trust and rely on staff for help, but staff don’t have the capacity or skills to support the graduates. Graduates feel pressure to find work, housing, access benefits, and meet with probation all while staying away from toxic relationships. Judah expressed InHouse's efforts and also shared that they have a long way to go.

I was part of a team of 4 other incredible individuals - Nicole Poor, Siming Wang, Chang He, and Ying Luo, that together worked on the project you are about to see.

Since this was the first time the 5 of us were working together, we spent some time on some quick activities as a group so as to bring more understanding and clarity to our individual needs and working patterns and understand how we felt about group work. This was done so that we could collaborate more efficiently, rely on each others strengths and make room for and support each other's challenges.

We started with the 6 thinking hats tool. To better understand this tool, see here 

'The Community of Practice Canvas' enabled us to understand and align on why we are all here, what our values and shared principles are as well as what skills, strengths and weaknesses we have. It was a way to create space to share vulnerabilities, and practice discussing and making decisions together. 


Neuro-diversity is the diversity of human minds and the fact that brains and neuro-cognition vary among all individuals. Some of the commonly seen are:

- Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD or dyspraxia)

- Dyslexia

- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

- Dyscalculia

- Autistic Spectrum (ASD)

- Tourette Syndrome (TS), and others

DYSLEXIA BEHIND BARS - research project report (a summary)

1. Many prisoners refused to opt for basic skills training due to fear of classrooms / reliving past unpleasant memories

2. The InHouse program gave a sense of purpose and achievement

3. Follow up support showed an increase in sense of confidence to take on new lives and  careers

4. Peer mentoring helped in better empathy and understanding towards the prisoners’ low self-esteem, anxiety, and fears


‘Recovery’ is a process, not an end. It is grounded in the community. In recovery people need access to internal and external  resources:

1. Social - Relationships and engagement in the community.

2. Human - Skills, education, positive health, hopes, and aspirations.

3. Cultural - Values, beliefs, and attitudes

4. Physical - Tangible assets. Stable employment and housing. Healthy diet

We then made a list of questions/topics that we wanted to discuss with 3 members of the InHouse team, with whom we had scheduled an initial workshop with. The aim of the workshop was to gather more information on the topics mentioned in the list alongside.

We then mapped out our findings from the workshop (shown below) in a format that would be easy for us to summarize and revisit later on during our design process.

We also asked the team to help us understand the existing User Journey of the Graduates (the people out of prison environments are called Graduates by the InHouse team after finishing their programmes with InHouse while in prison and exiting prison). Since they worked closely with the Graduates, they were well aware of some of their most immediate and challenging needs. We mapped out the journey mentioned by them. (shown below)

We then drew out a stakeholder map, to better understand all the people and communities that are involved in, impacted by and influencing the Graduate's Pathways outside prison. This would help us better understand at which levels of the user journey change could be facilitated and who would be involved and impacted. by these changes.

We then had another meeting with the staff at InHouse to better understand some of the issues that the InHouse Associates and Graduates face. Some of the key findings were as follows:


- The impact of Covid has disrupted funding and cut business learning.

- Remuneration for work in prison is much lower than the hourly rate on release.

- Lacking of access to information on help and difficulties for prisoners to access it

- Lacking of relevant staff to provide help to prisoners and lack of trust between the two parties 

- 90% of people in prison are affected by neurodiversity, which affects their ability in reading, writing and attention span, resulting in a lack of motivation and concentration.

- Dyslexia: Have trouble with reading, writing, and understanding. Complicated and unintelligible words will demotivate prisoners.

- ADHD: Two pages are too long for prisoners

We also discussed charities and aids available to people out of prison. Key takeaways were as follows:


- ID:  help with filling out forms and applying for universal credit for people who have been released from prison

- Money: helping ex-prisoners apply for funding

- Housing: providing accommodation for homeless ex-prisoners

- Job-vocational training & offering full time jobs

- Charities provide more help than the government.

- There are many organisations in society that can help, but graduates lack access to them.

We then discussed what inHouse aims to do in this scenario. InHouse wants to build a sense of community and trust so that graduates are willing to reach out to them for help (most graduates currently already do. However, the team is not equipped with the resources and availability to help all the grads without compromising their own work-life balance, and emotional bandwith. Some grads also have trouble asking for help and reaching out)



1. Helping prepare for a lot of conditions, and the many documents that the grads need to have in order to avail government support and aids

2. Explaining what services they can apply for and what they can't

3. Helping them get together all the documents they need

We considered our Areas of Opportunity:

How might we support and guide Graduates in meeting eligibility and application processes for benefits?

How might we build a process that is simple and enables and encourages graduates to take control and learn by doing?

We got in touch and conducted an interview with a psychologist who worked for the NHS offender care service line providing people with mental health support in order to better understand the psychological characteristics of graduates and effective ways of communicating with them. Our conversation validated a lot of what we had researched. We were given advice about how to conduct workshops and interact with people in prison. We were also given resources relating to in-prison workshops around mental health and assertiveness. Our key takeaways were are follows:

1. Having ownership over something makes people more likely to change their behaviour. There is a lot of evidence that shows that one is more likely to change and reform if they have ownership over that process.

2. There are benefits to group teaching & peer support.

3. A lot of the issues are the support in the outside world, the reality of their life outside. People might come into prison and take part in lots of programs, feel more positive about changing, but on the outside there are a lot of risk factors.

4. In the community mental health services are under resourced and over-prescribed.

5. Be transparent about tour role, share how we want to help, what potential there is out there.

6. Language matters. Replace words with negative connotations, rather than using ‘Patients’ or ‘Prisoners’ use NHC Care Services us ‘Service Users’.

Inspired by recent feedback, we researched the importance of language when talking about people and the weight language can carry. We looked at currently used vocabulary and looked at how to replace derogatory negative terms with more people centered terms. This not only humanizes people and their experiences, but can help reduce stigma and prejudice.

We then got to designing our workshop with the graduates, where we would conduct a crucial part of our primary research. We designed the following format:

The idea was that the icebreakers would allow people to get to know each other, and get comfortable within the workshop space. Music was picked as the topic for this activity as it is something they are all involved with and hence would not add any further stress or pressure. We also picked the crazy 4's game format to understand problem areas and areas for change for the graduates. This would help to get them involved in activities that they could contribute to in a non-intimidating and fun game-like format. We also thought of a group-discussion format for sharing of ideas within the workshop as it would reduce seriousness and facilitate more naturally flowing conversations without putting anybody on the spot. 

We ran a test workshop with our peers and even ran our workshop plan through with some of the staff at InHouse. We received some feedback as follows:

1. Workshop followed quite a design focused narrative

2. It doesn't necessarily feel like a safe and enabling place

3. It feels like there's an opportunity for them to fail

4. That might be similar to being in school, where they didn't have a great experience of For an extreme audience, they probably would be intimidated by the workshop

5. Maybe also share our next intentions/plans with the graduates?

The feedback was extremely useful as it completely shifted how we approached out workshop. We met as a group and asked ourselves:

1. How might we create a safe, enabling, and empowering environment so that everyone is seen and heard?

2. How might we frame our workshop for an extreme audience that might feel intimidated by design language and artefacts

3. How might we give up control, create a more flexible structure for the conversation and practice active listening?

4. How might we enable a co-creative narrative?

We decided to shift away from a design workshop to a human-to-human conversation with the grads and made adjustments to our workshop. We researched and discussed how we could build psychological safety before and during the conversation.

- We decided we would share the structure of our conversation with InHouse staff beforehand and ask for comments and feedback.

- We planned to open questions and discussion early on through an ice breaker that enabled them to share their favourite music. 

- We communicated that the grads had flexibility in participation and the option to opt-out at any time.

After diverse feedback and discussion, the goals of the workshop were now focused on:

- Gaining a deeper insight into the nuances of their experience, so that we don’t base our ideas on conventional insights.

- Understanding how lack of motivation and human behaviour is preventing them from a better pathway. We already know the conventional issues.

- Empathize, see the experience through their eyes.

We restructured the workshop and decided on roles. Chang and I volunteered to guide the workshop while Nicole, Siming, and Ying took on various observational, note-taking roles. We also decided, on the suggestion of InHouse staff, that we would also need observers of body language and recorded responses during the workshop in addition to hosts in order to ensure that the participants are comfortable and understand any ques that we might have missed through verbal responses. We finally conducted our online workshop with the grads - with 2 moderators and 3 observers.

Four grads participated in our hour-long conversation. We began by introducing ourselves, our interest in InHouse, and our project so far. Chang and I let the grads know that their thoughts and ideas would help guide our designs and that we can’t do this work without them. We asked to record the session for our own use and reminded them that they could opt-out at any time. We shared that we want everyone to feel welcome to speak and opened a channel for feedback, letting all participants know that all voices are important and deserve to be heard. Setting up the conversation in this way created an open and honest environment, with low stakes! We think it made everyone feel relaxed and comfortable.

We started with an optional icebreaker asking the grads to share the name of a song they liked and all responded by saying that they all like a lot of different music. The graduates were enthusiastic from the beginning. 

In the next part of our discussion, we asked the grads two questions. For each question, the grads took turns answering and engaged in conversation with us and each other. We let the conversation flow naturally and asked follow-up questions.

1. What do you find difficult on your pathway out of prison?

2. What would help make the process better, easier, even enjoyable?

After the discussion, we asked if it would be okay to share some of our ideas for feedback. The grads responded with genuine interest and honest feedback. Feedback ranged from personal stories and experiences to reflections and suggestions on a range of topics:

- Technological advances and inaccessibility

- Opening up about anxiety

- Need for mental health support

- Networking and sharing stories

- Peer support/buddy system

- Role of charities

- Obstacles in filling out forms

Graduates agreed that their top priorities for support were:

1. Mental health

2. Housing

3. Jobs/employment

4. Employment / Skill training

We then took all the information about the user pathways up until that point and mapped out our key takeaways. This was done was dividing the user journey into 3 main phases - InHouse Associates (people still in prison), Transition into graduate pathway (the first two weeks out of prison), and the phase where the Graduates start accessing services and support. 

This visual summary included the various touchpoints, common thoughts and feelings, and available opportunities in each of these phases. (see below)

After considering all this information, we identified the areas where we as designers could influence change and facilitate smoother, more effective transitions from prison into life outside prison. (see circled areas above)

We then created a persona based on information gathered from our research to give a more visual and distinctive picture of an InHouse member.


We created a persona of a 25 year old male who does not have his own home and sometimes lives with his parents. He has a mobile phone and uses social networks such as Instagram, but computers are difficult for him to use. He feels unmotivated, discouraged, and scared. He doesn't know how to get support and doesn't like to ask for help. For him, outside help is much needed and building trust is the basis for him to ask for help.

In addition, we filled in a research methods matrix to clarify the different research methods to be used with different stakeholders. This helped us to strategize who and how to reach out for primary research. When brainstorming how best to conduct primary research we decided we wanted the experience to be accessible and engaging. We decided to explore social games and story telling as a way to guide conversations.


For the graduates, we wanted to use simple and fun ways to conduct primary research and to create a safe and enable environment where they could talk about their experiences and feelings comfortably. We wanted to incorporate some social games and a fun way of doing our primary research. For charities, we want to send emails and contact them or talk to them on the phone about issues. For psychologists we wanted to use telephone interviews to get information quickly and effectively.

Next, we started to think about how to conduct primary research with the graduates, taking into account the specificities and psychological characteristics of this group of people. Without knowing much about each other, we wanted to incorporate some interactive games into the research process, to provide a safe and enabling environment for the graduates to express themselves comfortably. Below are some games we researched and tested out among our group:

We also researched examples of charitable businesses and social enterprises that support people in prison and graduates through their various approaches, such as providing job skills training and employment opportunities, and connecting people in prison with their families. These organisations give graduates the opportunity and motivation to reintegrate into society and have been proven to help reduce re-offending. By studying these companies and enterprises, we have found many common elements, from service processes to methods of support. Returning citizens are more motivated to take their lives seriously when they have jobs or relationships that support them during their reintegration into society and help them build a new positive sense of self.

Next, in order to understand the changes in the psychological state of people before and after their release from prison, we researched relevant literature to help us further analyse possible psychological conditions. We looked at a paper titled “Research on the social adaptation of foreign ex-prisoners and its implications for contemporary China” We found that in the first year after release, about 60% of people released from prison commit crimes again.


The process of social adaptation of returning citizens can be divided into three phases:

1. Honeymoon period (or excitement period)

2. Disappointment period (or awake period)

3. Repositioning period One study showed that the risk of suicide was greatly increased if access to health and social care provided by the community is blocked after returning to society, or related rehabilitation services are lacking.

Working together we customized and filled in a Theory of Change framework. It was helpful to review insights from our research and consolidate them in one place. We identified problems the InHouse members face as well as key issues from the staff's point of view and the causes of those issues. We identified key stakeholders through primary and secondary research. We also thought about short-term and long-term goals and ways we could ‘action change’ for each. 

We then mapped out our conversation with the grads (as shown below). Some our our key insights and areas of opportunities were as follows:

- Mental health is more important than a job.

- People aren’t aware of their mental health and don’t seek support.

- Forced to catch up and adapt to new technology.

- There is so much talent in prisons, but difficult to discover opportunities.

- Experiences with support are inconsistent and government services are unreliable.

- Sharing personal connections and experiences can be the most effective way to learn about support.

- Charities offer support but aren’t known about.

- Graduates don’t like to ask for help and want to do so anonymously.

- There was an interest in networking and discovering opportunities.

- Lots of grads use social media, especially instagram since the user experience and interface  is very simple and easy to understand

Next, we took some time discussing each idea from our theory of change as a group - briefly discussing what the idea would consist of, the impact we were hoping it would have and the problems it would solve, the feedback we received from the graduates and InHouse staff about the ideas, and any challenges and gaps that we see within the ideas.

Through this, we realised that a couple of ideas that we were extremely excited about initially, weren't actually as well thought out as we thought they were; discussing them in more detail brought us to see the gaps and some crucial parts of the feedback and research that we had not fully taken into consideration while discussing these ideas. The idea of a music festival was one such idea. We believed that a festival would be a great place for the graduates to connect with people from the music industry like producers and other artists. We also saw potential in it becoming a space where the graduates could interact with the public, and thus help form connections and reduce any negative perceptions. We however later remembered that during one of our interviews with the InHouse staff, a staff member told us about how some of the graduates feel anxious, and uncomfortable around huge crowds, and even recounted his own experience where he found himself in a similar setting and the kind of anxiety and panic it had brought to him. We also realised that by introducing a large number of the public to such an event, could put the graduates in a very vulnerable position and my even cause unwanted interactions. Our discussions together about each of our ideas helped us see such issues and weed out some ideas that were going to help achieve what we set out to. Similarly, we also decided to do away with our public blog idea where the graduates could share their stories and music, and even perform duets with strangers, as we realized that this could open up channels for unwanted, potentially hurtful interaction.

We then shortlisted the number of ideas to four. They were as follows:

1. Creating an Instagram Support to provide information and resources

2. Creating a Form Hack to help graduates with form filling processes

3. Make a Language extension and a Tooltip extension that would aid in changing public perception and help the graduates while filling online forms

4. Introduce Jam sessions that would allow the graduates to showcase their music and other skills and connect with members of the music industry and helpful charities and organizations.

Instagram Support


Insights Summary:

Through our research we realized that it can sometimes be really difficult to reach out and ask for support when needed. We also found that there is a lack of awareness about the different services available. The information that is available, is also really inconsistent. Another really important insight that we got was the understanding that everyone's experience with support is different, and that this process isn’t linear - people have different needs at different points in time. We also found that government services can be difficult and time consuming to access, and that a majority of the support is provided by external charities and organizations. Another thing that we found really crucial to our ideation process was what a staff member told us about the 2 week grace period. She told us about how there is a general drop in motivation levels and overall hope after the first two weeks from release. 

Keeping all these insights in mind, we decided to create a prototype for a instagram support page that would share key information and resources on accessing support and opportunities.

- This would help get support and information without having to ask others for it, and hence it could be more comfortable.

- It would be private, with access only to InHouse graduates, to ensure safety and to limit any potential, unwanted interactions.

- Instagram was chosen because of it’s easy, straightforward user interface and the different tools available on it. We also learned that the majority of grads are active on instagram.​

- They would discuss topics like Applying for universal credit, Mental Health Support and Resources, Job opportunities and job fairs, Probation, Housing, Approaching Councils, Contacting Support Staff, Letter templates for writing to councils, Available grants, Share useful, relevant organizations, charities and Skill development


- Regular Instagram posts would be used to discuss various resources like housing charities, mental health support, local job fairs, tips and tricks on various application processes, hacks for writing effective bios and council letters, and many such topics. 

- These posts would then be posted to instagram stories and categorized and saved in the story highlights so that the grads can easily access the information they are looking for at any point in time.

- The instgram lives, IGTVs, guides and reels will be used to provide further information on various organizations, lots of different tips and tricks, and other useful information that people might not have had access to. 

- Live Q&As could be conducted twice a month to answer any queries. 

- InHouse Support could also collaborate with various organizations and charities and councils, and have weekly instagram takeovers. The organizations would take over the InHose Support instagram for a day, and conduct live events talking about the work they do, the kind of support they can provide, and post useful resources for the grads.

- The Instagram guides provide a good opportunity to post longer content, such as information about various charities, info on filling forms, upcoming online and offline events that could support the grads, owing to its blog-like interface. So this space could be leveraged for longer, more structured content.

Form Hack


Insights Summary:

Through our research and conversations we were reminded that filling in forms to access basic services is a discouraging and complicated process.

- When people leave prison they are unaware of the services available to them, how to go about applying and what documentation is needed.

- We learned that neurodiversity, the differences in our brains regarding learning, attention and mood, as well as dyslexia and ADHD make it difficult to focus, read and write.

- People have negative associations with filling out forms due to difficult experiences in early education and in life, which lead them to feel unmotivated. 

- And there are many different forms, but also an overlap in the information and documentation required to complete them.

- Also, assistance from staff and peers is really helpful.

Keeping all this in mind, we designed a universal form and guide. It uses simple language to describe the process for applying for basic services and is designed using fonts and styling for people with dyslexia. With the guidance of InHouse staff, you practice filling in forms alongside your peers.


Page 1 of the form hack is a guide that includes a timeline to visualize the process for filling in forms, to understand what to do and when. It includes a description of each form, an image of the form, a checklist of what you'll need to apply, as well as the time it takes to complete the process. As well as a list of resources like charities and online tools to help in the process.

Page 2 is a universal form that is unique to you. Because a lot of forms contain the same information, you fill out a universal form once, which becomes a cheat sheet of personal information. You’re able to visualize what documentation is required to access services before leaving prison and what you’re missing. 


Once out of prison a Google chrome extension could be downloaded to help guide you in filling in forms online. Difficult terms and important information would be highlighted and when hovered over, simplified explanations would pop up. 

Language and Tooltip Extension

The language extension would be a chrome extension that people could download. The extension would change words with negative connotations to more human-centric language.

The tooltip extension was an idea that in a way, was an extension of the form hack idea. The tooltip extension would allow users to hover over difficult words and processes in online applications and get relevant tips as pop-ups

Jam Sessions

The Jam Sessions would be a space that would allow the graduates to showcase their skills and music and network with people from the music industry and even people from useful charities and organisations. To ensure the safety and comfort of the graduates, the Jam Sessions would:

- Have entry on invite-only basis to control the people having access to the jam session

- Be held at a location that the graduates were comfortable at like the InHouse studio.

- Invite members from the music industry like producers, other artists to create an opportunity to network and collaborate

- Invite members from useful charities and organisations to facilitate the graduates to access information about these organisations and the services and help they provide.

Illustration of a Jam Session by Ying (see below)

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