HMIP Inspection of Thorn Cross

The prison was given an inspection in April 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:

Thorn Cross is an open prison in Cheshire holding adult male prisoners, most of whom are serving lengthy or indeterminate sentences. At the time of our visit,  there were 316 prisoners, 17% fewer than at our last full inspection in 2016 and slightly below the uncrowded capacity of 325.

The fundamental purpose of Thorn Cross is to prepare prisoners for their return to the community and previous full inspections found that it had   performed this role consistently well. However, the pandemic had severely and understandably disrupted the prison’s ability to sustain previous levels of pre-release preparation and support. While much resettlement provision remained in place and key tasks such as parole assessments were being completed, there was far less release on temporary licence (ROTL) for the purposes of work or training than in the past. Face-to-face contact with offender managers and resettlement support services had also been very limited and prisoners were often frustrated about their inability to obtain information from the offender management unit. Prison leaders had not done enough to address this problem.

In most other respects, Thorn Cross remained an impressive establishment with a culture and physical environment that supported rehabilitative endeavour and delivered positive outcomes for prisoners. Relationships between staff and prisoners were mature and respectful. Complaints were managed well and leaders had continued to undertake a good level of prisoner consultation. Leaders were aware of prisoners’ main concerns and tangible actions were usually being taken to address them. The management of equality and diversity had been improving and was reasonable, although many black and minority ethnic prisoners lacked confidence in the fairness of prison procedures. Security was proportionate and it was encouraging that relatively few prisoners were returned to closed conditions. There was little violence, use of force or self-harm, but governance of segregation and use of force was weak.

The prison had progressed to a ‘level three’ regime shortly before our visit. Social visits had resumed and were popular, and there had been encouraging early progress towards increasing the number of prisoners able to benefit from ROTL. Notably, subject to appropriate risk assessment, a few prisoners had been able to undertake essential community work placements since autumn 2020.

Our Ofsted colleagues concluded that prison leaders had worked flexibly and innovatively to maintain a broad education, skills and work curriculum throughout the COVID-19 restrictions. The vast majority of prisoners were engaged in some form of work, training or education, and much of it was good quality. About a third of available education and training places were unfilled and more could have been done to increase the number of prisoners taking part in full-time activity.

Health care provision was also impressive and a very high percentage of prisoners in our survey said that the quality was good. An outbreak of COVID-19 in February 2021 had been managed efficiently and was resolved quickly with the cooperation of prisoners, who understood and accepted the extra restrictions that were imposed. Reverse cohorting procedures were effective and prisoners on the unit still had access to key services and could easily use an outside exercise area.

Overall, this scrutiny visit found a prison that had coped well with the challenges of the pandemic and was making reasonably good progress in safely increasing its provision. Prison leaders had   realistic plans to improve the currently insufficient rehabilitative provision, which were supported by a positive staff culture, a good physical environment and generally good safety outcomes. An immediate challenge was to improve communication and dialogue between prisoners and their offender managers.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
May 2021

Return to Thorn Cross

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