IMB says the disruption caused by the chaotic way in which the proposed closure for redevelopment was handled by the Prison Service was unnecessary and wasteful.
In its annual report, the Rochester IMB notes that:
- HMP and YOI Rochester continues to provide a generally safe and decent environment for prisoners. A new Governor and Senior Management Team (SMT) have brought stability and increased safety to the prison but continuing staff shortages mean that there was been little improvement since our last report. Staff deal with offenders in their care as sympathetically and effectively as resources permit, despite there being some prisoners who are especially demanding and whose needs are increasingly difficult to meet. There are an increasing number of prisoners with a mental health condition who should not be held in prison, putting a strain on fellow inmates and staff who have to try and absorb their erratic behaviour.
- The announcement that the prison was closing for redevelopment was made in March 2017. However, since then the plans for redevelopment have been continually revised and it is no longer clear when redevelopment at HMP Rochester will begin, if at all. The inconsistent decision making process about redevelopment has caused considerable disruption to the effectiveness of the prison. (NB: This is not a criticism of the Governor or his team, but those responsible at the Ministry of Justice.) Buildings in need of urgent repair were left in a poor state, many staff working in Healthcare, Education and Training moved to other jobs, and some prison officers and managers have transferred to other establishments – all for no reason. In addition, prisoners became unsettled as a sense of unease spread across the prison, with more incidents reported to the Board. The Board’s view is that the way in which this announcement has been handled is unfair and unreasonable for all those working at the prison and to prisoners who needed to complete rehabilitative courses. It is calling for sufficient resources to be made immediately available to HMP Rochester, enabling it to return to the positive position it was in before the closure (now non-closure) announcement was made.
- Another key issue is the availability of NPS (new psychoactive substances), mobile phones and other illicit drugs within the prison. Their impact is felt across the prison in every way; being associated with violence, debt and an increasing number of prisoners self-harming. The Senior Management Team have gone to commendable lengths to overcome the problem but Rochester’s open site location provides too many opportunities for contraband to be sent over the prison fencing.
- The opportunities for rehabilitation at HMP Rochester during the reporting period were good, with improvement in purposeful activity. The provision of education is good and more areas of work have been introduced into the prison during the year. There is an award-winning bicycle workshop, tuition in industrial cleaning at an excellent facility and prisoners are given the opportunity to learn various skills associated with the building industry and in horticulture.
- The Board remains concerned at the loss of prisoner’s property during transfer from one prison to another, and urges that the promised review of this function is undertaken. Too many prisoners are not well prepared for their release because of factors outside of the prison’s control, including the availability of suitable accommodation for them in the community.
The Chair at HMP Rochester said:
“After a period of difficulty, HMP Rochester was beginning to overcome many of the problems identified in the HMCIP Report of 2015. Most significantly it was delivering recovery with inadequate staffing levels. To the credit of those working there, it remains a generally well run prison. The disruption caused by the chaotic way in which the proposed closure for redevelopment was handled by the Prison Service was unnecessary and wasteful.”
The full report is published on www.imb.org.uk/reports/