I now head southeast, out of Wales and into Shropshire (although Stoke Heath still takes prisoners from Wales and the North West). This area was part of the Welsh Marches, once a kind of Badlands, and has the greatest concentration of motte-and-bailey castles in Britain.
As a kind of modern castle (it was built in 1964), Stoke Heath lacks turrets, arrowslits, dungeons, or even a moat – although it is right next to a couple of small lakes.
The prisoners called the jail ‘calm’, and ‘very safe’ compared to others, with security ‘on it’, staff ‘who don’t mess about’, and a structured regime ‘helping time fly’. Staff-prisoner relations were ‘good’, as were vocational courses with ‘excellent’ local employer links. They liked the Prisoner council, and said family visits were ‘fantastic’ (‘great atmosphere’, ‘lots of activities for kids’) helped by an ‘excellent’ Chaplaincy & Barnardo’s. The farms and gardens were ‘excellent’.
The Officers called this ‘great jail’ safer than others, with ‘excellent’ security, staff ‘definitely in charge’, ‘excellent’ staff relations, new staff ‘very welcome’, and with good retention (yet still ‘unafraid to challenge’ underperformance). Prisoner relations were ‘excellent’, and they ‘cared passionately’ about helping them change. Spice and phones were thought ‘low’ due to Rapiscan mail-checks and new phone scanners. They said VR reps played ‘a big role’ in safety. They also praised veteran, lifer and traveller support, high quality prisoner activities, the enhanced, drug, and Cat D resettlement units, and the ‘excellent’ family visits.
The managers called staff ‘a big family’, with a visible, supportive governor, who socialise in the gym, staff mess, and outside. They felt being ‘all FMI trained’ helped create ‘excellent jailcraft’ in a ‘safe’, ‘staff run’ prison (‘prisoners respect that’), with ‘very good’ prisoner relations. They said local police and NCA links made phones & drugs ‘hard to get’ (prisoners & staff agreed). Positives for staff included being able to alter detailing with permission, regular well-being days, ‘widely valued’ staff recognition scheme and good development and training opportunities. They too also highlighted as positives the range of specialist units, as well as workshops and education.