The prison was given an inspection in November 2014, the full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:
“HMP Styal is a women’s local prison near Wilmslow in Cheshire that serves courts in the north-west of England and north Wales. Its major catchment areas are Greater Manchester and Merseyside, and it holds a complicated mix of women from those remanded by the courts, women serving both short and long sentences and those with indeterminate sentences. Like other women’s local prisons the population is further complicated by high levels of self-harm, physical and mental health issues, and drug and alcohol abuse. Many of the women have experienced domestic violence and over half have children under 18. More women at Styal than at comparator prisons were in prison for the first time, and the vast majority told us they arrived with a range of problems.
As we have reported elsewhere, many women had long delays in court cells at the conclusion of their cases while waiting for transfer to the prison. This was compounded by escort vehicles being shared with male prisoners and frequent late evening arrivals at the prison. In contrast, early days support for women at the prison was very good. Women were dealt with swiftly in reception and staff were friendly and welcoming. First night support was also good and peer mentors were used to very good effect throughout the process. Induction was well managed and allocation to activities was swift and based on an individual assessment of needs and circumstances. A good risk assessment was conducted to establish if women could be safely located on the more ‘open’ side of the prison in houses, or needed greater supervision or support in the more ‘closed’ setting of Waite wing.
Most women felt safe and the majority of more serious incidents (of which there were few) were accounted for by a small number of individuals with the most problems. Good relationships between staff and prisoners, prisoner peer workers, and the prison’s safer custody hub helped to support a safe environment. Vulnerable women, including those who self-harmed, were generally well cared for; and the Dove Centre provided a caring and supportive respite for those with the most complex problems – the unit represented a real step forward from previous arrangements for caring for such women. Security arrangements facilitated decent free movement around the site, and also focused on the ongoing challenge of restricting access to illicit drugs and preventing the trading of prescribed medications. Force was used proportionately and management arrangements were strong. However, some women with severe mental health issues and related challenging behaviour were held in segregation, and more thought needed to be given to how these women should be cared for, including better joined up work between the prison and mental health staff.
Substance misuse support was much improved from the previous inspection and was now good overall. The physical layout of the prison was unusual. Waite wing was a large, traditionally designed cellular unit used for those women deemed unsuitable for the houses, either because of their behaviour or vulnerability. In contrast, the main site enjoyed a very open regime where women lived communally in houses and had a degree of autonomy. Women from both parts of the prison were required to visit various hubs for information, support and to access staff, and we felt this engendered a sense of independence and personal responsibility for many everyday issues. While the standard of accommodation was reasonable, women, particularly on Waite wing complained about a range of frustrations concerning daily living. The layout of the main site also presented challenges for women used to a more traditional prison environment, as it required them to be much more involved in decisions about many day-to-day issues and less reliant on staff. Many women complained about a lack of staff visibility on the houses and this was compounded by the absence of any formal scheme of having named staff who were required to check on the women. While we supported the focus on encouraging women to be more independent, for some, particularly the more vulnerable in the population and women serving long sentences, more regular routine contact with staff was perhaps still needed. Peer mentors were used extensively and while we supported this approach, staff oversight and supervision of these individuals needed to be enhanced.
Equality and diversity work was adequate but meeting the needs of some groups needed more focus. Health care provision was good, but some triage arrangements presented unreasonable barriers for some women, particularly when trying to see a GP. Queuing for medications was pervasive, often happening outside with no cover, even in very inclement weather, and we considered this to be disrespectful.
Time out of cell was good and few, if any, women were locked up during the core day. The focus of learning and skills was appropriate, met the needs of women very well and supported rehabilitation work. Provision was well sequenced and the range, quality and quantity were good. Achievements and attendance were also good.
Resettlement work was also very effective. While there were some frailties in offender management work, support to higher-risk women was better. The excellent resettlement pathway support, driven from the Women’s Centre (aimed to replicate the services provided by community-based women’s centres – organisations with an exclusive focus on women’s needs), provided very good support on arrival, during time spent at the prison, and, where relevant, pre-release. Children and families work was good and developing, and support for the victims of abuse was strong, although more needed to be done to provide staff with a better understanding of human trafficking.
Overall, Styal was a very good prison where outcomes for the women held were strong in all four of our healthy prison tests. We were particularly impressed with the efforts made to give women more independence and responsibility, and although this was a problem to some, it was aimed at better equipping women for life back in the community. Relationships were strong and these, alongside very good activities and resettlement work, supported a positive focus on rehabilitation. Challenges remain but this is a good inspection of a successful institution.
Nick Hardwick March 2015
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”
To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below: