You have to admire Judah Armani’s determination. The 50-year-old, Tehran-born, London-bred designer dedicates his expertise to long-term projects aimed at creating “safe and enabling environments” and promoting self-improvement within vulnerable communities.
After a decade of working in homelessness, and frustrated at the lack of impact his work was having, in 2015 he turned to another overlooked demographic: the staff and residents of English prisons. Starting out by researching and best practice-sharing with guards, probation officers, governors and residents, and after input from all participants, he presented music as a powerful basis for interventions. After a two-year process, Armani launched InHouse Records: the world’s first label recruiting its roster through workshops behind bars.
After an inaugural, one-man acoustic guitar session at a single location, InHouse has grown. By mid-2019, 300 men in six prisons and 40 ex-prisoners were involved. The business side looks solid, too. Due to legal restrictions, those on workshops inside are only eligible to release music on InHouse after their release from prison. At which point, partnerships with the likes of AWAL, Sony Publishing and Universal’s Caroline International are lined up to handle publishing and distribution, with contracts expected to offer 80% of revenue to artists.
UK prisons are in serious crisis. A 2020 Reform report showed 70% of institutions were over capacity, with an estimated 500 places lost to disrepair annually. As western Europe’s leader for incarceration rates, where 48% of adults who serve a custodial sentence are rearrested within 12 months of release, there’s an urgent need to rethink, and music and creative projects can form part of a wider solution.
According to InHouse’s own numbers, across four locations, less than 1% of those enrolled reoffended within 18 months of release, while prison staff observed an average 428% increase in good behaviour incidents among participants.
“We’re certainly not the finished article, as a service and as a process,” Armani tells DJ Mag, speaking about InHouse. “We can improve by releasing music. At the moment it’s a protracted affair, partly because we needed to get a sign off from the Ministry of Justice to release music and because we’re working with bigger labels: they were the people that showed us most love at the beginning. We want to work with them, they carry authenticity and validation.”