November 10, 2023

Insights from Insights23: Meet with Chief Executive Pia Sinha at the Prison Reform Trust 

Susan Baron
Insights lead for Collaboration with Digital and Data Science

Susan Baron, HMPPS Insights lead for Collaboration with Digital and Data Science, shares her reflections on a thought -provoking morning at the Prison Reform Trust for Insights23. 

I was delighted to attend this event as I have been a long-time admirer of the Prison Reform Trust’s (PRT) work as an independent UK charity working to create a just, humane and effective penal system. I wanted to learn more about PRT’s experiences, hear from their Chief Executive and former prison Governor Pia Sinha, and to connect with other Criminal Justice System professionals. 

I wasn’t disappointed! Pia and her team hosted a full morning explaining their work with lots of discussion over refreshments. I learnt about PRT’s key principle of being independent from Government yet successfully positioning themselves as a critical friend and influencer of penal policy.   

I heard the different ways that PRT influence positive change in prisons including horizon scanning for issues and membership of HMPPS advisory groups on key topics such as the Use of Force and working with the media.   

I and my fellow VIP attendees were educated about PRT’s current campaigns under their 3 key objectives:- 

Reducing the use of prisons

  • IPPs (Indeterminate Public Protection prisoners) and women 

Improving conditions for people in prison  

  • Release on temporary licence 
  • Information and communication technology 

Promote equality and human rights 

  • PAVA use (an incapacitant spray), parole changes, liaison and diversion services 

From our discussions, five things stood out for me;  

  • Hearing about progress in some of the campaign areas  

e.g. the changes to the parole system contained in the proposed Victims and Prisoner’s Bill  

  • The sobering statistic that 98% of the current proportion of IPPs in custody have exceeded their tariff.  
  • Learning about the Prisoner Advice and Information line which answers over 1000 calls per month.  How this helps them keep relevant by ‘keeping in touch with prisoners’ experiences right now’’ – hearing this made me reflect if I do this effectively in my HMPPS headquarters role.   
  • The sharing of personal stories and reflections such as hearing about Pia’s career motivations for working as a prison psychologist, as a Governing Governor within HMPPS and to her leadership of PRT.   
  • Hearing other attendees’ perspectives and ways of staying hopeful in challenging times.  This was so useful helping me consider my possible future career and retirement options.   

There were some surprises too! 

  • The smallness of the team and PRT’s premises  
  • The challenges of securing funding e.g. relying on around 500 ‘friends’ of the organisation alongside more formal funding 
  • PRT recognising the transformational power that information technology could bring to prison outcomes 

Keen to capture the thoughts of others, I took the opportunity to ask both the PRT team and my fellow attendees, (including a probation officer, a Director from Clinks and a researcher from York University) two questions; 

  • Describe HMPPS in a few words 
  • One thing they would wish for with a magic wand 

Here’s some examples of what they said: 

  • Resilient’, ‘Shackled’, ‘Hard-working staff’, ‘Reactive’  
  • Digitising 
  • Sharing practice at all levels 
  • More music and arts in prisons 

Attending the event at PRT has strengthened my resolve to continue working in this field and made me think how I stay grounded with people in prisons’ experiences. I also valued connecting with like-minded colleagues. 

Pia Sinha, PRT’s Chief Executive added “It was such a pleasure hosting this event. The team and I got so much from sharing our work with you. The enthusiasm and interest from the group reaffirmed our own commitment to the cause. PRT as a charity does not take any Government funding, please do support our work by becoming a 'friend' of PRT.” 

If you’d like to know more about PRT and the work they do, you can visit their website here

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