The prison was given an inspection in autumn 2017, 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 Rochester is a category C training and resettlement prison in Kent holding 733 adult and young adult male prisoners. The prison was originally built in 1874 but was rebuilt in the first decade of the 20th century as a borstal institution. The large and sprawling site had a mix of relatively new and old accommodation. The older accommodation was particularly poor, which led to the announcement in March 2017 that the prison would close and be completely redeveloped. The recent increase in the prison population, however, led to a further announcement in July that the closure would be delayed until 2019. This process had caused significant disruption and displacement of resources at the prison, and real uncertainty about its future.
At our last inspection in 2015, we found a prison that was failing to deliver acceptable outcomes in all four of our healthy prison tests. Given the closure notice and ongoing uncertainty about the prison’s future, we were encouraged at this inspection to see progress in some key areas – to the great credit of the governor and his team. More needed to be done to embed and consolidate the progress made, but this had been achieved despite the uncertainties referred to.
The prison was calmer than before, and poor behaviour was being more proactively challenged. Most men we met during the inspection and who completed our survey reported that they felt safe. Illegal drugs remained a big problem, and a major challenge, but the prison was better focused on these issues. Processes that supported behaviour management were all used frequently, and included the incentives and earned privileges (IEP) scheme, adjudications, use of force and segregation. Some elements needed tighter oversight, particularly the use of special cells, which was too high. There had been no deaths in custody since our last visit, and some lessons seemed to have been learned from previous incidents. Support for the most vulnerable men in the population was generally good, but was mixed for some in crisis who were being managed under the assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management process for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm.
The prison was generally respectful, with much improved staff-prisoner relationships and better management of equality and diversity work and complaints. Health care was reasonable overall, but there were ongoing problems with the management of medication and some waiting lists were too long. Much of the living accommodation was unacceptable, and C wing resembled a derelict building. Many cells were cramped, grubby, poorly maintained and without decent furniture, and we again found many offensive displays on walls. While the prison had made efforts to mitigate some aspects, the living environment overall was not suitable and the accommodation needed to be closed. HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) also appeared to have reached this conclusion with the closure notice earlier last year. Despite the postponement of this decision in July, we would encourage HMPPS to revisit this issue at the very earliest opportunity.
The regime suffered from insufficient staff to run a full regime, exacerbated by a significant number of operational and specialist staff leaving the prison after the closure notice. The governor had implemented a restricted regime, which meant men at least had a period of reliable time out of cell each day, prioritising attendance at activities. While vocational training programmes and some education courses were good, many men were employed in workplaces and industries that offered very little training or personal development. Time out of cell overall was insufficient, and many regime activity places were not being run because of staffing shortages. We found far more men than at the last inspection locked up during the working day with nothing useful to do.
Strategic management of work to rehabilitate men held had improved since the last inspection, and despite around three-quarters of men arriving at Rochester without an offender assessment system (OASys) document, the backlog was now well managed and inroads were being made. It was good to see release on temporary licence (ROTL) beginning to be used to promote stronger family ties, and we would encourage the prison to develop this further to assist men in gaining employment on release. Nevertheless, important elements of offender management work and support for men in reducing their risk of harm and preparing them for release were not good enough.
Uncertainty about the prison’s future was having a huge impact on outcomes and well-being at Rochester. The prison was, however, very well led, and had clear and achievable plans to mitigate the impact of the uncertainty and improve areas with in the governor’s control. Commendable progress had already been made in this regard. We would encourage whatever support or clarity can be provided to ensure any potential deterioration is avoided, and we leave the prison with a number of recommendations which we hope will assist.
Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
HM Chief Inspector of Prison
To read the full reports follow the links below:
- 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)