HMP Stocken – Where Did It All Go Wrong?

BB Derby

In January 2003, an inspection report from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons praised Stocken Prison, stating that it was an example for other jails to follow. Inspectors found “mutually respectful relationships between staff and prisoners” which created a “decent, safe and ordered environment.” So what went wrong?

In the latest inspection in 2012 the report said,

“ Although HMP Stocken opened only in 1985, it has continued a rapid expansion in capacity in recent years and, on what is a very large site, can now hold more than 1,000 prisoners. At our last inspection in 2010, we reported a mixed picture with an institution that was reasonably safe but failing to provide activity of sufficient quality. At this announced follow-up inspection, we found a reasonably successful institution with improvements evident, although there were still shortcomings in the provision of activity – an ongoing concern in a training prison.

C76AAD Signs of self harm on the arms of one prisoner. HMP Styal is a Closed Category prison for female adults and young offenders.

Stocken continued to be a safe prison, a considerable achievement given its size and extent. It had adopted a robust approach to tackling antisocial behaviour, both in the structures to reduce violence and the way it dealt with individual incidents. Unusually, this was complemented by an incentives scheme that was more effective than we normally see. Gaps in the prison’s otherwise good approach to safer custody were the inadequate treatment of vulnerable prisoners, which required improvement, and comparatively high levels of victimisation reported by prisoners, which needed further analysis. The care offered to those at risk of self-harm was mixed and the number of incidents recorded was higher than in comparable prisons. Too many prisoners in a self-harm crisis also found themselves in segregated conditions without sufficient justification.


The use of illegal drugs in the prison was reasonably low but this masked the diversion of prescribed medications, about which we had significant concerns. There needed to be better risk assessments to determine the allocation of in-possession medication. Support for those who wished to address substance abuse was adequate, if lacking coordination.


We found Stocken to be a more respectful prison than at our last inspection. The type and composition of accommodation varied greatly but most was bright and clean. Relationships between staff and prisoners had improved and our observations suggested they were properly collaborative and respectful. The prison had a reasonable approach to the promotion of diversity, and the perceptions of black and minority ethnic prisoners were broadly in line with those of white prisoners, although the views of prisoners with a disability were more negative. Health care had shown significant improvement with many of our previous recommendations addressed.

The issue that remained the most problematic was the provision of activity. Despite considerable management effort which, for example, had improved the provision of vocational training, activity places had not kept pace with the growth of the population. Too many prisoners were locked up during the working part of the day and the quality of important aspects of education required improvement. The prison offered a good range of work, although too much was low skill or repetitive. The work of the library in support of resettlement was impressive.


The prison continued to provide reasonable resettlement services, although they could be improved by a more informed analysis of need. All prisoners had been allocated a member of staff to help supervise their sentence, although custody planning for shorter term prisoners had limitations. The large number of prisoners on indeterminate sentences received satisfactory support, despite some frustration and discontent among this group. Resettlement services addressed most elements of need, although the prison could show greater confidence in extending the use of temporary release to support reintegration.

Overall, this is a reasonably good report. Stocken is a large prison and a significant management challenge. Progress had been made in all areas but more needed to be done to provide sufficient activity.


Just Sunday past (14 June 2015) prisoners who had previously been ‘inactive’ decided to riot from 6pm to 11pm. At which point the National Tactical Response Team arrived ( as they had done five times before in 2013) and quickly calmed things down. Thirty prisoners were moved out to other prisons, four were taken to hospital and that was that. So I ask again what could possibly be going wrong?


Perhaps the clue lies in the prison population, which in 2008 stood at 806, but with rapid expansion is now over 1,000. Or in the fact that  many of these prisoners are locked up the majority of the time, in what is supposed to be a training prison. Bullying is on the rise, incidents of self-harm are on the rise and prison officer numbers have dropped by 41%. Still, not to worry, Chris Grayling has gone and now Michael Gove (he of ‘A Midnight Feast’ fame) is on the case and he’ll sort this, won’t he?

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 27:  Lord Chancellor Michael Gove attends the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords, at the Palace of Westminster on May 27, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Arthur Edwards - WPA Pool/Getty Images)