HMP & YOI rochester, a training and resettlement prison in Kent holding adult and young adult male prisoners, had shown encouraging progress despite the “significant disruption” of a period in which it was told it would close but was then kept open, according to a report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons.
The leadership at rochester was commended for guiding the prison through this difficult period, coping with the loss of key staff after the closure announcement and some very poor accommodation, with one wing resembling a “derelict building”. HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) announced in March 2017 that rochester, a large and sprawling site dating back to 1874, would close for complete redevelopment. However, an increase in the national prison population led to a further announcement in July 2017 that the closure would be delayed until 2019. In 2015, inspectors had found that rochester was failing to deliver acceptable outcomes for prisoners. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the announcement and then delay of closure in 2017 “caused significant disruption and displacement of resources at the prison, and real uncertainty about its future.”
Inspectors returned to rochester in October and November 2017. Mr Clarke said: “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.”
Inspectors found rochester to be calmer than before, and poor behaviour was being more proactively challenged. Most men said they felt safe. Illegal drugs remained a big problem, and a major challenge, but the prison was better focused on these issues. There had been no deaths in custody since the 2015 inspection.
The prison was assessed as generally respectful, with much improved staff-prisoner relationships and better management of equality and diversity work and complaints. Much of the living accommodation was unacceptable, however, with constant demand for expensive emergency repairs, and C wing at HMP rochester “resembled a derelict building. Many cells were cramped, grubby, poorly maintained and without decent furniture, and we again found many offensive displays on walls.” The prison had made efforts to mitigate this, including allowing prisoners to paint their cells, but the living environment overall was not suitable and the accommodation needed to be closed.
“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,” Mr Clarke said.
The prison also suffered from insufficient staff to run a full regime, a problem exacerbated by the loss of a significant number of operational and specialist staff after the initial closure notice. Mr Clarke added: “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.” Despite this, time out of cell overall was insufficient, and many activities 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.”
Mr Clarke said:
“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 within 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.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:
“rochester has faced a number of challenges over the past year and I’m pleased that the Inspectorate has noted the progress made by the Governor and his team. A programme of refurbishment has been planned to address the most urgent accommodation issues, along with the recruitment of more staff to create a consistent regime for prisoners. We will continue to work towards addressing the broader issues raised in the report.”
A copy of the full report, published on 15 March 2018, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons