New PET CEO: “Education must be a priority in every prison”

Home > New PET CEO: “Education must be a priority in every prison”

28 April 2021

Jon Collins headshot

Jon Collins joined Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) as its new chief executive at the start of April. Here he talks digital learning, his proudest achievements, and how people in prison can help shape the charity’s future.

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How did you first get into the criminal justice sector?

After university – and stints working in a bookshop and as a barman – I didn’t have a clear of what I wanted to do and, with a general interest in social justice issues and in working in the charitable sector, I ended up in an administrative role at the charity Nacro.

Working there, and in particular visiting projects that they ran in prisons and talking to prisoners about their experiences, got me interested in criminal justice and, having gone back to university to do a masters in criminal justice policy, I’ve been working in this sector ever since.

What drew you to Prisoners’ Education Trust?

I can’t think of an organisation that I’d have liked to work for more! I think that contact with the criminal justice system can, and must, be a chance to help people to turn their lives around. Education should be at the heart of that and PET does invaluable work enabling people in prison to access learning opportunities that would not otherwise be available to them. I really wanted to contribute to that work.

What has been your proudest achievement to date?

I’ve worked for some great organisations and on some really interesting issues. I’m proud to have worked on campaigns to increase funding for rape crisis centres and to enable prisoners to vote – even though the latter was not successful it is, for me, an important point of principle.

I am also proud of work to make restorative justice more widely available and to support people who have participated in it to share their stories, raising awareness of the benefits of a restorative approach.

What will be your priorities as PET’s CEO?

I’m very lucky to have joined a great staff team and an organisation that is flourishing despite lockdown and the challenges that has brought.

I am looking forward to seeing how we can provide more support to learners, help more people to start courses, and consider how we can best take advantage of the opportunities presented by digital technology.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing prison education?

The lockdown within prisons caused by the pandemic has severely restricted access to education for most people over the last year. Getting face-to-face education up and running again must now be a priority, as soon as it is safe to do so.

Longer term, the very limited access to digital technology cannot be allowed to continue. We want to see the prison system realise the potential for digital learning by making in-cell technology and safe access to the internet the norm.

Underpinning that, education must be seen as a priority in every prison across England and Wales and the quality of a prison should be judged, at least in part, on whether they support people to learn. That isn’t always the case at the moment.

Tell us how you think people in prison can help shape the future of PET.

Putting learners and their experiences at the heart of the organisation is important to everyone at PET. We encourage people with experience of studying in prison to join our alumni network, which influences and informs the work that we do. With their input, we can help more people and offer better support.

Finally, what do you like to do when you’re not working?

With three children, a dog and a newly-arrived kitten in the house I don’t seem to have much free time, but I enjoy reading and walking when I can. I also try to run regularly, though I wouldn’t say that I enjoy it! I grew up by the sea and love going to new places so I am also looking forward to a seaside holiday when it is possible to travel again.

We need your support to raise £15,000 to ensure we can meet the growing demand for education in prison and keep the PET Advice Line running this year. Donate here.

 

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