HMIP Inspections of Styal

The prison was given an inspection in September/October 2021, 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:


Located in the buildings of a former children’s home, Styal is an unusual setting for a prison, with its Edwardian house blocks situated along tree-lined avenues. At the time of our visit the prison housed 362 women, most of whom were on remand or serving short sentences, with a substantial minority serving four or more years. The site provides excellent opportunities to develop independent living, but also presents some challenges, particularly in supervising women inside the houses and around the grounds.

COVID-19 restrictions had meant that women were locked in their houses together – with up to four sharing a small room – for long periods of time. Under such conditions it was perhaps not surprising that there had been an increase in levels of violence since we last inspected as frustrations began to spill over into confrontations.

Though restrictions had begun to be lifted, the leaders had sensibly decided not to return to the previous free-flow movement around the prison. Instead they had put in place measures that allowed for better knowledge of where all the women were, with more contained movement and better roll checks. This, coupled with improved physical security, had led to a reduction in the prison’s long-term problems with drugs entering the premises.

Leaders had also sought to address the high levels of self-harm among some of the women and to improve care for the most vulnerable, putting into place the learning from the four self-inflicted deaths since our last inspection. An impressive, weekly safety interventions meeting (SIM) sought to understand the needs of and provide for those most at risk, including the excellent Stepping Stones programme. This bespoke support continued to operate during the pandemic. In addition, the Valentina unit was used for women who needed higher levels of care.

Despite this strong, whole-prison approach, some women with acute mental health difficulties still ended up in the bleak segregation unit, where some caring staff did their best to support the women in completely unsuitable conditions.

On the Bollinwood house unit, outside the perimeter fence, a small number of women were living in open conditions. During the pandemic, release on temporary licence (ROTL) had been curtailed. This meant that many lost their jobs outside the prison and, for much of lockdown, they were unable to use temporary release to maintain contact with their family or put in place plans for their release. Although ROTL had restarted, an overcautious approach meant women were heavily restricted in where they could go; visits to the town were not allowed and women could not use the local park to exercise, leaving outdoor exercise space as no more than a walk around the car park at the prison. Although these women were allowed into the prison for health care, they could not go to the prison shop or get their hair cut in the salon. A priority for leaders must be to restore this provision so that women on the Bollinwood house unit have the opportunity to begin to experience life as a citizen, and women behind the fence have an incentive to move to open conditions.

One of the houses (Bronte) had recently been refurbished, and conditions were good on the more prison-like Waite wing, but much of the existing provision remained substandard. Rotting windows, leaks, damp, broken equipment and mould were ubiquitous in the houses and in some homes 20 women were sharing two lavatories and showers.

A strong and cohesive senior team left inspectors optimistic that this prison can continue to improve provision for what is a complex and often needy population. This will be dependent on building the capabilities of existing staff, while dealing with any poor behaviour that holds back progress, and critically, making sure that attrition rates do not increase. Only with a full complement of effective and dedicated staff will this prison be able to offer the care, challenge and regime that will support the rehabilitation of this group of women.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
October 2021

Return to Styal

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

  • Inspection report (1 MB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP & YOI Styal by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (20 September and 4-8 October 2021
  • 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)

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