HMP Stoke Heath, Inspections

The prison was inspected in November 2018 by HMIP. In their report the inspectors said:

HMP/YOI Stoke Heath in Shropshire is a category C training and resettlement prison with capacity for up to 782 adult men. Located in a rural setting with a long exposed perimeter, the prison campus contains a variety of accommodation, much of it added over the years to the older original facility first built in the early 1960s. Many of those held were allocated from local prisons in the West Midlands, with the population profile reflecting a comparatively even spread of age groups and sentence lengths.

 We last inspected Stoke Heath in 2015 when we found a prison that was delivering reasonably good outcomes against all our tests of a healthy prison. At this inspection we were pleased to find a very similar picture despite some deterioration in the provision of purposeful activity.

The prison remained an overwhelmingly safe institution. The reception area had been improved and was bright and welcoming. Upon arrival, risk to individuals was properly assessed and first night arrangements were reasonable. Peer support during this time was useful, although induction arrangements needed to be more structured, comprehensive and expeditious.

In our survey, about a quarter of prisoners told us they felt unsafe, a figure similar to our findings in 2015. Violence in the prison, unlike at many other prisons, had not increased since 2015, with an encouraging decrease since the summer of 2018 following a spike earlier in the year. Work to address violence and incentivise prisoners was reasonably good and, overall, we found a prison that was ordered and under control. Use of force, however, had increased and was high. Supervision of use of force had improved but we still believed more needed to be done to ensure that there was comprehensive governance and accountability in place. Segregated prisoners were generally treated well.

Security arrangements were proportionate and effective. The combined mandatory drug testing figure of 10.6% was much better than we have seen in other prisons managing very similar risks. The supervision of mail, relationships with the local police and community, and the prison’s good grip on the management of intelligence were some of the measures that seemed to be ensuring some encouraging outcomes.

Of more concern was the prison’s response to self-harm, which had risen sharply. In addition, one prisoner had taken their own life since we last inspected. Recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following their investigation into this death had not been implemented in full, and while prisoners in crisis told us they felt well cared for, they were often left locked up for extended periods. Some monitoring and case management arrangements were insufficient.

Prisoners expressed to us real confidence in the staff, who they saw as being in control, and work to introduce the key worker scheme and an active citizenship initiative were well advanced. The quality of cells, however, varied greatly and many were very small and cramped. Communal areas were clean and access to showers and other amenities was reasonable. Prisoners had many complaints about the quality of the food, complaints we thought were often justified. Consultation arrangements were in place but they needed to be more effective and useful. The management of complaints was inconsistent, with confidential access arrangements being a particular weakness. The promotion of equality and diversity had improved and many aspects were good, although prisoners from a black and minority ethnic background expressed several more negative perceptions about their experiences in the prison. Outcomes in health care were more mixed, with some aspects not well integrated.

A major weakness of the prison was the number of prisoners who were inactive and locked up during the working day. During checks we found about a third of prisoners in this situation. Gym and library facilities were underused and there was insufficient activity for the whole population. In addition, many wing cleaners and workers were underemployed. The range and variety of work on offer were reasonable and in education English and mathematics were correctly prioritised. For those who attended education and vocational training, good coaching and teaching were available and, in general, quality improvement measures undertaken by the prison and providers were effective. Achievement rates for those who attended education, vocational training or work were generally good.

The prison was ensuring reasonable outcomes regarding resettlement. A useful analysis of need had taken place recently and new developments in offender management were being introduced well. Work was impacted, however, by the continuing problem of new prisoners arriving without a completed offender assessment system (OASys) assessment. The prison was working hard to clear the backlog but our review showed that many of those held had insufficient risk management plans.

Contact with key workers was regular but too often lacked focus on risk issues. Public protection arrangements, despite this, were generally sound. Prisoners were assisted with some good pre-release planning and the prison had made some recent progress in trying to ensure more accommodation was made available to those being released. Release on temporary licence (ROTL) was used well to assist the process of rehabilitation.

Overall this is an encouraging report, particularly in the context of the pressures experienced by the prison system in recent times. Stoke Heath has benefitted, in our view, from stable and competent leadership that has attended to trying to get the basics right. This is not to argue that there aren’t further improvements that can be made – there are many. But Stoke Heath was dealing with the same risks and challenges that other less successful training prisons face and yet it remained a largely well-ordered place where the prisoners, for the most part, trusted the staff. Good work was being done to confront the scourge of drugs and violence. The challenge going forward is to maintain these successes and build on them in a way that also integrates improvements to the prison’s regime and resettlement offer.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                 January 2019

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

To read the full report go the Ministry of Justice web site or follow the links below:

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