HMIP Inspections of Styal

The prison was given an inspection in April/May 2018, 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:

“Styal is a women’s resettlement prison in Cheshire. It receives women from a wide geographical area covering the North West of England and into Wales. The population is complex, ranging from those remanded by the courts and serving short custodial sentences through to women serving life. Nearly all the women arrive at the prison with significant need, including many with a history of suicide attempts and self-harm, mental health issues and substance misuse. They are often vulnerable and have experienced trauma, abuse and domestic violence. Managing women with these problems and experiences, alongside addressing their offending behaviour, is challenging. It was, therefore, heartening that, as at our previous inspection of Styal in 2014, we were struck by the professionalism and competence of staff and their commitment to providing a safe, decent and productive environment for the women held.

Most women told us they felt safe, and there was some excellent work to manage poor and problematic behaviour, and to address the underlying causes. Nevertheless, more than half the women surveyed had felt unsafe at some time at the prison, and managers and staff needed to maintain their focus on issues related to problems in relationships, drugs and bullying. Levels of self-harm were very high, involving a small number of prolific self-harmers, but the care and support provided was good, particularly for the most vulnerable women. There had been one self-inflicted death since our last inspection, and the prison had an ongoing action plan addressing the recommendations of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). Security was proportionate and helped to facilitate safe movement around the site, and to address the supply of illegal drugs. Most behavioural issues were dealt with at an interpersonal level and formal disciplinary processes were well managed, and only used as a last resort. The regime in the segregation unit needed to be improved.

There was a strong focus on decency; prison managers had developed a strategy and action plan to assist staff and the prisoners to maintain and enhance standards across the prison. That said, there were areas for improvement. Basic maintenance tasks on the houses were not completed promptly, and graffiti was evident in many areas. New arrivals were not routinely offered a shower and telephone call, and we found several examples of personal information not held confidentially. However, the prison was a fundamentally respectful place. The vast majority of staff were caring and supportive in the way they dealt with the women. Most aspects of the environment were good, and while there were frailties in the strategic management of the protected characteristic groups, outcomes for them were generally equitable. Health care provision met most needs well.

Time out of cell was good and, despite some curtailment due to staffing shortages, remained better than we often see. Women could access a wide range of formal and recreational activities. Aspects of the learning, skills and work provision had been enhanced, and leadership was strong and driving some positive improvements. The range of activities was appropriate and broadly sufficient for the women held. The focus on raising aspirations was excellent, as was the use of peer mentors. However, English and mathematics provision was not meeting the significant need, staffing shortages had led to cancellation of some activities and prisoner punctuality at activities required improvement.

Resettlement work was among the best we have seen. Styal had strong relationships with resettlement partners, and aimed to maximise and improve opportunities for the rehabilitation of women. Children and families work was good, and there was a range of support for women who had been victimised and abused in some way, although the focus on human trafficking needed to be stronger. The options available through release on temporary licence were excellent, and the advent of the open unit outside the gate and the Clinks restaurant were significant steps forward. Offender management work was very strong, and helping women to address their risk to others. Through-the-gate work was also very strong, and there was much excellent work to prepare women for release. Nevertheless, there were many challenges with this, not least the conditions to which women went out, including significant shortages of stable accommodation in the community.

Despite the good work, the ‘revolving door’ of some women returning to the prison over and over continued. They received good care while at Styal, and were often stabilised, supported, and helped to address poor behaviour and other problems in their lives, only for this to fall apart once they were released, often leading to another custodial sentence. While these wider issues were beyond the ability of managers at Styal to solve alone, we were encouraged to see the efforts by the governor and her team to work with the women and engage with partners in the community to break this cycle.

We are again very positive about the outcomes achieved at Styal in all four of our healthy prison tests, and this is particularly noteworthy given the complexity of the women held. The prison is very well led, and achieves a good balance between providing care and support and challenging problematic behaviour. We were particularly pleased to see the emphasis on building aspiration and hope for the future among the women held.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
June 2018
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Styal

To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below:

  • HMP & YOI Styal (1.76 MB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP & YOI Styal (23 April–6 May 2018)
  • HMP & YOI Styal Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP & YOI Styal (3 – 14 November 2014)
  • HMP Styal Unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Styal (5 – 15 July 2011)
  • HMP Styal Announced inspection of HMP Styal (1 – 5 September 2008)