HMIP Inspections, HMP Rochester

The prison was given an inspection in summer 2015, and 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:

“Rochester is a medium-sized category C training prison in Kent for 743 adult and young adult male prisoners. The prison however, is a sprawling mix of old and new accommodation situated on a large site, with prisoners serving a full range of sentences from the relatively short-term, up to life.

When we last inspected in 2013 the prison was undergoing significant management and operational change as an early adopter of a NOMS benchmarking and efficiency programme. The outcomes we observed at the time were mixed although the prison was better than we had previously found it and appeared to be both optimistic and energised by its ‘early adopter’ status. This inspection however, has been disappointing. The prison was emerging from another period of transition and was only now getting near to the full complement of staff needed, and a more consistent delivery of its daily routine. The prison was not progressing and resettlement services provision had deteriorated. Across all our healthy prison tests outcomes were insufficient.

Safety remained a significant concern. A fifth of prisoners reported feeling unsafe and over 40% had felt unsafe at some point during their stay, findings that were worse than similar establishments and than when we last inspected. First night and induction arrangements were inadequate and levels of violence were too high. About 40 prisoners were self isolating for their own protection. Mandatory drug testing suggested higher than expected levels of drug use and additionally, there was evidence of considerable amounts of new psychoactive substances (NPS), an as yet undetectable drug, in the prison. Some 57% of prisoners said to us in our survey, that it was easy to get drugs in Rochester. There was much evidence to suggest that the availability of NPS was having a significant destabilising effect, and yet the prison’s response lacked coordination and too many staff seemed complacent of the issue and its impact. Confronting this drug problem demanded urgent attention.

Levels of self-harm in the prison were high. Care for those at risk was inadequate and many of those subject to case management (ACCT) felt unsupported. An observation cell in segregation used to hold those at developed risk was one of the worst we have seen.

Many of the at-risk prisoners found themselves identified and the subject of case management interventions because of NPS-related debt. Many other features of the prison that inform judgements about safety were similarly concerning. The use of formal disciplinary procedures was high; use of force was high and increasing, but insufficiently accountable. The use of the special cell was very high for a category C training prison, and of the 21 prisoners located in the facility during the six months prior to our inspection, unacceptably, nine were at risk of self-harm and on open ACCTs.

Living conditions in the prison were poor. Communal and cellular accommodation was dirty and many cells were poorly equipped. Prisoners complained repeatedly about their inability to obtain basic kit. Unusually, the prison was equipped for in-cell telephones, which brought advantages but only when they were available to buy, which they were not at the time of our inspection. Prisoners were generally positive about their relationship with staff although a compelling impression was that too much poor behaviour went unchallenged by staff. Work to promote equality was weak and the prison had no defined approach to meet the needs of the small number of young adults in the prison despite evidence to suggest this was needed. The chaplaincy ensured good outcomes in faith provision and health services were improving. The quality of the food provided was poor.

Prisoners had very good access to time out of cell but it was not always used purposefully. The prison had improved the amount of purposeful activity since the last inspection which was now sufficient to meet the needs of the population. The range of education, training and work places was good although the analysis of curriculum needs required improvement. Many indicators of quality had also improved with good vocational and classroom teaching, and good and improving achievements of qualifications for those engaged. All this progress was however, undermined by the poor attendance at activity. Our spot checks found just 7% of prisoners locked up during the working day,  but a third were found on the wings doing nothing. Staff were not sufficiently attentive in getting prisoners to work or education on time and failed to adequately challenge those malingering.

Resettlement work was disjointed. Offender management required improvement and prisoners were frustrated by the limited contact and communication they received from their offender supervisors. Many prisoners arrived without a full OASys risk assessment and sentence plans failed to address risk factors. Temporary release was little used despite the prison’s role as a resettlement prison but public protection work was adequate. Work to support reintegration through the resettlement pathways was adequate but was limited in its support for family engagement and had deteriorated in respect of the provision of accommodation on release. It was a further disappointment that of the ten recommendations we made at our previous inspection concerning our resettlement healthy prison test, only one had been fully achieved in the intervening period.

Rochester is a prison which has gone through big changes in recent years but has not made the progress hoped for. It is a prison however, not without advantages. It is near to having the number of staff it needs, it has sufficient activity and it has a clear purpose serving as a resettlement prison to its local community. e were told of plans for the future but our overriding impression was that it was a prison that just needed to focus on the basics. A robust drug strategy, cleaning the prison up, getting prisoners to work on time and some joined-up thinking about their approach to resettling prisoners would be good places to start.


Nick Hardwick                                                          2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Rochester 

To read the full reports follow the links below:

  • HMP Rochester, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Rochester (1 – 11 September 2015)
  • HMP Rochester, Announced full follow-up inspection of HMP Rochester (21–25 January 2013)
  • HMYOI Rochester, Announced inspection of HMYOI Rochester (14 – 18 February 2011)
  • HMYOI Rochester, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMYOI Rochester (16-18 February 2009)