In its 2020/21 Annual Report published today, the Rochester Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) – made up of volunteers appointed by ministers to ensure prisoners are treated humanely – notes that:

  • HMP & YOI Rochester continues to provide a safe and decent environment for prisoners as resources permit.
  • The necessary restrictive regime required to limit the Covid-19 virus has led to reduced levels of violence and intimidation across the prison.  In addition there has been a welcome reduction in prisoners self-harming.
  • Prison officers deal with offenders in their care as sympathetically and effectively as resources allow, despite there being some who are especially demanding and whose needs are increasingly difficult to meet.

 

  • The Key Worker system, introduced as the lockdown period started proved particularly effective in maintaining stability at the prison. Proactive conversations between prisoners and key workers gained buy-in to the restrictions being imposed.

However, the Board also raised a number of concerns:

 

  • The availability of contraband including new psychoactive substances (NPS) and other illicit drugs, mobile phones and tobacco, while diminished during lockdown, remains  a significant factor of life at Rochester.  Unfortunately efforts to overcome the availability of contraband are hampered by Rochester’s open location.

 

  • The necessary restrictive regime allows prisoners just 2 hours outside their accommodation per day.  This is stressful and harming to mental welfare for all prisoners, and the Board strongly hopes a less restrictive regime can operate as soon as possible.

 

  • Many of the buildings are Edwardian, structurally poor, and difficult to modernise and maintain.  Even the four additional newer wings have on-going issues with ventilation and heating.

 

  • Rochester is a Category C prison.  However, there are too many prisoners at Rochester who have worked towards and gained Category D status, and still waiting to be redeployed to Category D open conditions.  Having worked hard to achieve Category D status, the lack of availability of Category D accommodation is frustrating and de-motivating for many prisoners.

 

The IMB Rochester  Vice-Chair said:

“To the credit of those working there, HMP Rochester has remained a stable and well run prison during this challenging lockdown year.  Lockdown has limited the impact of drugs and other contraband within the prison, but its availability remains a serious problem. It has been unable to provide the range of activities and work required of a resettlement prison, due to the restrictive regime.  However the Board has noted that planning for reopening will include the provision of more meaningful activity than in the past.”