HMIP Inspections of Maidstone

The prison was last inspected in October 2018, the full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In his report the inspector said:

HMP Maidstone is a category C prison that holds exclusively foreign national prisoners, and has done since 2013. At the time of this inspection it held just under 600 prisoners. It had a young population, with some 40% being under 30 years of age. The prison itself dates back to 1819 and is situated near to the centre of Maidstone. In many respects it is like a typical Victorian jail, with high walls dominating the surrounding streets, and has been a feature of the life of the town for many generations. The current governor has been in post since 2013, which is a longer tenure than we often see. The prison was last inspected in August 2015.

In terms of safety, the prison was calm and well ordered but it was noticeable that the initial risk assessment of prisoners carried out on their arrival was not adequate and needed to be addressed as a matter of some urgency.

The use of force in the prison had increased since the last inspection but was lower than at other category C prisons and the seriousness of incidents was mostly low level. In terms of behaviour management, it was good to see what we have recorded as good practice in the use of incentives and earned privileges (IEP) forums, where the use of the IEP scheme was regularly reviewed and prisoner participation was included.

 I would sound a note of caution about the situation at HMP Maidstone insofar as the impact of illicit drugs is concerned. The prison, unlike so many others, had not been destabilised by an influx of drugs, but there were some worrying signs. Despite the fact that the random drug testing carried out on prisoners was predictable, the positive test rate had risen and now stood at 14.5%. This was too high to be taken lightly. Shortly after this inspection some 15 parcels containing contraband, including drugs, were thrown over the wall into the prison in the space of a single night. Despite the clear indications that drugs were a growing problem, the response to intelligence was poor, with backlogs and suspicion searches not being carried out in a timely fashion or at all. There was clearly a need to refocus on the strategy for reducing the supply of illicit drugs, and there is certainly no room at all for complacency.

Generally speaking, we found that relationships between staff and prisoners were good, and a higher than usual proportion of prisoners told us they were treated with respect by staff. There were also good consultation arrangements with prisoners. The food in the prison was unusually well regarded by prisoners, with some 60% telling us it was good. However, as in too many prisons, it was served far too early, and we observed lunch being served at 11.20am and the evening meal at 4.20pm. A major issue for the prison was that much of the residential accommodation was old, shabby and in need of refurbishment. Living conditions were also adversely affected by the fact that the sports hall had been condemned and closed. There were serious problems with laundry arrangements, causing prisoners to have to wash and dry clothes in their cells. Overall, though, our judgement was that HMP Maidstone was a more respectful prison than when we last inspected, thanks in no small part to the quality of the relationships between staff and prisoners.

 One of the most serious concerns brought to light by this inspection was the decline in terms of the purposeful activity available to prisoners. For those in employment the amount of time out of cell was perfectly adequate, but there were only sufficient activity places for around three-quarters of the population. There did not appear to be a strong culture of promoting teaching, learning or work within the prison. Indeed, inspectors concluded that much of the workshop activity was geared towards income generation for the prison rather than developing skills for prisoners to assist with their release and resettlement. Far too much of the work that was available was mundane and menial, and I was surprised to see large numbers of prisoners in workshops playing games rather than being engaged in work. In one case, prisoners were being allocated to an activity that did not actually exist. Ofsted judged the provision of education, work and skills to be inadequate in all of the  areas they inspected, and it was inevitable that our overall judgement in the area of purposeful activity declined compared to the last inspection to the lowest assessment, ‘poor’.

In contrast, we found that rehabilitation and release planning had improved since the last inspection, although more still needed to be done. There was a need to develop a single, coherent system that would be capable of addressing the needs of each and every prisoner. The needs of foreign national prisoners can be very different from those of the majority of the prison population, and it is fair to say there had been some improvements in recent times, but there were still too many inconsistencies and errors, such as prisoners being incorrectly allocated to a Community Rehabilitation Company instead of to the National Probation Service, and it proving hugely difficult to get the error corrected. About half of prisoners did not have an up-to-date offender assessment system (OASys) assessment. More also needed to be done to support the significant number of prisoners who received no social visits at all.

Those prisoners who were destined to be held in detention under immigration powers at the conclusion of their sentence should have been told that this was going to happen sooner rather than later, and certainly not left until very close to the time when they anticipated that they would be released. Although the problems with education and employment needed to be taken very seriously and resolved as soon as possible, it was good to see that there had been improvements in two of our healthy prison tests. The prison was completely aware of the distinct needs of their population, although more needed to be done to understand the more negative perceptions of their treatment and conditions held by prisoners with protected characteristics. The establishment also needed support in terms of investment to get the fabric of the buildings back to an acceptable standard and facilities such as the sports hall restored.

 Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

December 2018

Return to Maidstone 

To read the full report follow the link below

  • HMP Maidstone (1.01 MB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Maidstone (8, 9, 15–19 October 2018) 
  • HMP Maidstone (PDF, 1.18 MB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Maidstone (3 – 14 August 2015)
  • HMP Maidstone, Announced inspection of HMP Maidstone (19 – 23 September 2011)
  • HMP Maidstone, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Maidstone (14-16 September 2009

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