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Sumayyah Hassan, Inspector

Photograph of Sumayyah Hassan.

My first glimpse into prisons was when I joined the Unlocked Graduates scheme, where I worked as a prison officer in a category B local prison. I had no idea what it meant to be a prison officer! As part of the programme, I completed a master’s in Leadership and Custodial Environments. Unlocked’s mission is to reduce reoffending and we got the opportunity to write a policy paper and bring our experiences on the frontline to fore of Whitehall. I went on to work in Whitehall, starting in prison policy as part of the workforce strategy team, and thereafter in the Private Office of two prisons ministers. I also founded the Frontline Staff Network, having identified a gap between the frontline and headquarters, the centre of decision making.

I experienced the impact of HMI Prisons in all of my roles and in very different but tangible ways, whether it was keeping my spur clean as an officer, using inspection reports to corroborate evidence for new policies and spending reviews, or as a conduit for ministers to be held to account in parliament. It was clear how the Inspectorate drove change at each level; I wanted to be a part of that!

At the Inspectorate, I’m one of the core prison inspectors. While I inspect all prisons, I am part of the team which leads on women in prison. I also sit on the Respect and Purposeful Activity forums and the Equality and Diversity Advisory Group.

Having been part of the prison workforce myself and having had a short stint in this policy area, I was really interested in the introduction of Leadership into our Expectations, by our current Chief Inspector Charlie Taylor. Prison is all about people and the challenges around workforce and leadership is a running thread throughout our reports since the pandemic; we often see the impact of this on outcomes for prisoners. It also gives us a great opportunity to showcase agile leaders who have been able to thrive despite the endless challenges and bureaucracy they might face.

I’ve learnt so much about how prisons all run so differently yet so similarly, how different localities affect resettlement, health and recruitment, yet how all prisons are still subject to systemic issues and centralised command structures. It’s been remarkable to see how different establishments function and I love that each inspection gives me fresh perspective; what one prison might say is impossible, another prison is doing without batting an eyelid.

It’s sometimes challenging to put yourself in the shoes of the prisoner and stay there but it’s so important that we focus on the outcomes for prisoners and not get bogged down by processes and paperwork. Prisons are such hidden spaces; unless you have direct contact with the criminal justice sector, it is very much out of sight and out of mind. HMIP gives me the opportunity to amplify the prisoner voice and uphold the treatment and conditions for even the most marginalised people in our society.