HM Prison Thorn Cross
HM Prison Thorn Cross is a Category D men’s prison located in rural Cheshire. Originally built as an RAF airbase, the site was converted into a prison in 1985. Thorn Cross has changed roles several times over the years, from adult to young offenders, and is now dedicated to rehabilitating lower risk inmates through education, training and gradual reintegration into society.
Opening and early years
Thorn Cross Prison first opened in 1985 on the grounds of the former Royal Navy air station, RNAS Stretton. The prison was initially used to hold lower risk adult male inmates in an open conditions setting. Prisoners were afforded a high degree of autonomy and freedom of movement.
Transition to young offenders institution
In 1996, the role of Thorn Cross was redefined as a youth offenders institution with a military-style boot camp regime. It was the first such facility in the UK aimed at disciplining and reforming young inmates through a strict and intensive program.
Positive inspection reports
Thorn Cross received praise from multiple inspections during the 1990s and 2000s. A 1999 report called it an “inspirational example of good practice” and highlighted the effectiveness of its High Intensity Training (HIT) project for young offenders. Further reports commended its rehabilitation programs and low rates of reoffending.
Facilities and regime
Prison category and accommodation
Currently a Category D prison, Thorn Cross houses lower risk inmates in single cell accommodation. Each prisoner has his own room key and increased autonomy.
Education and work opportunities
Inmates can access vocational courses in construction, horticulture, catering, and rail maintenance. The prison partners with employers to offer real-world work experience.
Former Watford FC footballer Troy Deeney served a 4-month sentence at Thorn Cross for assault in 2012. He has credited his time there with turning his life around.
Nigerian footballer Kelvin Etuhu was briefly held at Thorn Cross in 2019 while serving an 8-month sentence for assault. It was one of several prisons he was moved between.
Like many open prisons, Thorn Cross has struggled with keeping drugs out of the hands of inmates. In 2017, nearly 10% tested positive on random drug tests.
Violence and bullying
There have been isolated incidents of bullying and violence between younger and older inmates. Additional measures have been put in place to enhance supervision.
Impact and legacy
Thorn Cross has maintained relatively low reoffending rates compared to other UK prisons. Around 20% of released prisoners have reoffended, indicating the prison’s rehabilitation programs have merit.
Model for rehabilitation
Its emphasis on education, skills training and gradual reintegration has established Thorn Cross as an example for successful rehabilitation of non-violent offenders in an open prison setting.
HM Prison Thorn Cross has evolved over the decades into a dedicated rehabilitative facility preparing inmates for reentry into society. Despite some challenges with drugs and bullying, it sets a positive example through its vocational courses, work placements and low reoffending rates. The prison exemplifies the potential for reforming lower risk prisoners in an open environment.
What type of inmates are held at Thorn Cross?
Thorn Cross houses adult male prisoners classified as Category D – lower risk offenders who can be reasonably trusted in open conditions.
What facilities are provided for prisoner education?
Courses include construction trades, horticulture, hospitality, catering, rail maintenance and other vocational skills. Partnerships with employers provide real-work experience.
How is Thorn Cross different than a closed prison?
As an open prison, Thorn Cross provides inmates with keys to their own rooms. Prisoners have much more autonomy and freedom of movement than a closed prison.
What are the main aims of the prison?
Thorn Cross focuses on reforming prisoners through education, skills development and gradual reintegration. Its goals are to reduce reoffending rates and set inmates up for a productive life after release.
Why was it converted from an air base to a prison?
The large air base buildings and facilities were ideal for conversion into a prison. Building a new prison facility from scratch would have been more expensive than repurposing the unused air base.