The prison was inspected in October 2021, 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:
HMP and YOI Rochester, the original borstal, is a category C training and resettlement prison for adult men and young offenders in Kent. When we last inspected in 2017, the prison was in a state of flux, with plans to close it just rescinded. At this inspection the situation had changed radically and, far from closure, there was now talk of potential plans to redevelop the site.
Whether these plans come to fruition remains to be seen, although as our report shows, a key strategic priority for the prison is the need to end overcrowding and radically improve the condition of the living accommodation in which prisoners were held. The establishment comprises a mix of very old house blocks and some relatively new. All, however, were in a very poor condition.
At the time of our inspection Rochester was holding 658 men; some way short of its capacity of just under 700. There was a significant turnover of prisoners each month, although 60% of the population were serving long or indeterminate sentences. About 40% were judged to present a serious risk of harm to others.
Overall, and in the context of the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, this was a reasonable inspection. As we found in 2017, outcomes in safety remained reasonably good, but were not sufficiently good in respect, principally due to the very poor living environment. In purposeful activity outcomes had deteriorated and were now poor – largely a consequence of COVID-19 restrictions – but outcomes had improved in rehabilitation and release planning to the extent that they were now reasonably good.
It was clear that leaders in the prison had prioritised Rochester’s response to the pandemic and had, commendably, been successful in mitigating risks. As the prison recovered however, progress to us seemed slow, even tentative. The reasons and explanations we heard for this were often unclear and inconsistent. Too few prisoners were engaged in useful activity and plans to move the prison to the next stage of the HMPPS recovery framework seemed to be fragile and unambitious. It must be acknowledged that another key strategic challenge for the prison – and one that was a significant additional limitation on progress – was the chronic shortage of staff. In common with other prisons in the Kent area, staff attrition rates were high and recruitment very slow. It was not clear that the prison had a credible plan to resolve this.
Rochester was achieving reasonably good outcomes in some important areas. The prison was settled, and prisoners seemed generally accepting, even sanguine about their situation, despite the poor living conditions and lack of activity. It was hard to avoid the sense, however, that with greater confidence, ambition and clarity of purpose from leaders, more could have been achieved. Clearer plans about the prison’s future, including how it will be redeveloped, and a robust strategy – probably led by HMPPS – to ensure effective recruitment are the two critical priorities.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
To read the full reports follow the links below:
- Inspection report (860 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP & YOI Rochester by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (4 and 11-15 October 2021)
- HMP & YOI Rochester, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP & YOI Rochester (23 October–3 November 2017)
- 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)