HMP/YOI Stoke Heath: Safe and ordered prison, but poor purposeful activity – told to get more prisoners into work, training and education

HMP//YOI Stoke Heath, a training and resettlement prison holding up to 782 male prisoners in rural Shropshire, was found by inspectors to be “overwhelmingly safe.”

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the 2015 inspection of the jail had found reasonably good outcomes – the second highest assessment – against all four HMI Prisons tests of a healthy prison.

“At this inspection (in November 2018) we were pleased to find a very similar picture, despite some deterioration in the provision of purposeful activity.”

The prison remained “overwhelmingly safe”. Violence, 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,” Mr Clarke added. However, use of force by staff had increased, and was high, and more needed to be done to ensure “comprehensive governance and accountability” of its use.

Inspectors found strong work to tackle drugs. The report noted that the management “made effective use of electronic security aids, including equipment to identify illicit items such as mobile phones, drugs and weapons.”

“At the time of inspection, prisoners were receiving photocopies of their domestic mail rather than the original letters sent in. Managers explained that this was in response to credible intelligence that some mail coming into the prison had been impregnated with a new psychoactive substance (NPS).” The prison planned to stop the restriction when it had scanner to detect the drugs without photocopying. Guidance for the local community to spot potential drugs-related suspicious activity was commended as good practice.

Inspectors were concerned about the prison’s response to self-harm, which had risen sharply. While prisoners in crisis said they felt well cared for, they were often left locked up for extended periods. Prisoners generally, though, expressed “real confidence” in the staff, who they saw as being in control and work to introduce a key worker scheme and an ‘active citizenship’ initiative were well advanced. Many cells, however, were very small and cramped.

A major weakness of the prison was the number of prisoners – about a third – who were inactive and locked up during the working day and there was insufficient activity for the whole population. However, achievement rates for those who attended education, vocational training or work were generally good. Rehabilitation and release planning remained reasonably good overall, thought assessments and risk management plans could improve.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“Stoke Heath has benefited 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.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:

“Stoke Heath provides a safe and respectful regime which gives positive opportunities for prisoners to turn their lives around. As the Chief Inspector makes clear, Stoke Heath is a good prison and, whilst there is more to do to improve purposeful activity, the Governor and staff deserve credit for their achievements in a challenging operational environment”.

A copy of the full report, published on 19 March 2019, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons