HMP Stoke Heath, Inspections

The prison was visited by the inspectors in April 2015 by HMIP. In their report they said:

“HMP/YOI Stoke Heath in Shropshire is a category C training prison holding 745 adult and young adult men. It has a small remand function serving the courts of mid-Wales and there is a small category D open unit outside the main prison walls. At the time of this inspection the prison was transitioning to become a resettlement prison for Wales. Once the new large prison in Wrexham opens in 2017 it is likely that Stoke Heath’s function will change again.

With the change in the prison’s role, about 60% of the men held were from Wales and had long journeys to the prison. However, escort, reception and early days processes were good. The prison cared well for the most vulnerable men it held. Levels of self-harm were low for this type of prison, and several complex cases had been very well managed. Prisoners in crisis said they felt well supported although access to Listeners (prisoners trained by the Samaritans to provide confidential emotional support to fellow prisoners) was inadequate. Safeguarding arrangements for vulnerable adults were better than we normally see. Use of force was high but well managed. During the inspection we observed two incidents where there were good attempts at de-escalation before force was used in a proportionate way. Despite a challenging population, it was commendable that designated special cells had not been used since February 2011.

Levels of violence were high and there had been some concerning finds of weapons, but most incidents were low level. Managers felt, and we agreed, that levels of violence were likely to be linked to the high availability of alcohol and drugs, including new psychoactive substances, and the behaviour of young adults. In our view, many prisoners were under-occupied and boredom contributed to poor behaviour. We found 40% of men – unemployed, part-time workers and domestic workers – milling about aimlessly on the wings during the working day. The behaviour management scheme was adequate in theory but in practice was applied inconsistently. The prison was responding to the supply of illegal substances and there had been some good finds but overall the prison needed to do more at a strategic level to understand and address the causes of violence, and at an individual level to address perpetrators and support victims.

The prison was overcrowded, some cells were very small and the overall environment was worn. Prisoners complained they could not get access to cleaning materials but cells were generally clean. Prisoners could wear their own clothes but prison clothing was often ill-fitting and in poor repair. Relationships between staff and prisoners was a strength, and the prison newsletter and daily radio show were effective means of communicating with prisoners. Support for prisoners with protected characteristics varied and consultation arrangements needed to be improved. Faith provision was very good and the chaplaincy played an important part in the life of the prison as a whole. Health care was a concern and vacancies affected the delivery of some core functions, although there were clear plans for improvement. Health screening of new arrivals was inconsistent and this created significant risks.

The quality of activities was good and the achievements of prisoners were outstanding. There was a very welcome focus on functional skills such as maths and English. However, although the amount of activity had increased it was still insufficient to meet the needs of the population. Too many prisoners were underemployed as orderlies and domestic workers. The library and gym were both good facilities but more needed to be done to monitor and encourage attendance.

The strategic management of resettlement was reasonably good and the prison was planning well to meet its new resettlement role. Too many prisoners arrived at the prison without an up-to-date risk assessment, and offender management processes needed to focus more on reducing prisoners’ risk of reoffending after release. Practical resettlement support was good and Clive House – the open unit just outside the prison walls – was an excellent facility to prepare prisoners for final release.

Family work was good which was important in view of the long distances many prisoners were from home. A high proportion of prisoners had been involved in domestic violence offences, but there was no work done to address this behaviour.

HMP/YOI Stoke Heath has weathered the pressures on the prison system better than most, and outcomes for the prisoners held were better than in many prisons we have recently inspected. Priorities for the future should include a focus on tackling violence, improving support for prisoners with protected characteristics, keeping men fully occupied and doing more to reduce the risks that they will reoffend after release. 

Nick Hardwick August 2015

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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