Staffing shortages and availability of drugs still the key concerns at Rochester

The Independent Monitoring Board at HM Prison and Young Offenders Institution, Rochester has released its Annual Report for 2015-16. It makes the following points:

  1. The Board considers that HMP and YOI Rochester continues to provide a generally safe and decent environment for prisoners, despite Government budget reductions. The Board retains the view that staff deal with offenders in their care as sympathetically and effectively as resources permit. This is despite there being some prisoners who are especially demanding and whose needs are increasingly difficult to meet.
  2. The prison has had a challenging year. There has been a change of Governor, an adverse HMCIP Report, staffing shortages and the continuing problem of drugs and other contraband circulating within the prison. For the Board, the key issue is the availability of NPS (new psychoactive substances), mobile phones and other illicit drugs within the prison. Its impact is felt across the prison in every way, leading to higher levels of violence with an increasing number of prisoners self-isolating and self-harming. The Senior Management Team have gone to commendable lengths to overcome the problem but the open site of Rochester’s location provides too many opportunities for contraband to be sent over the prison fencing. The Board is strongly supportive of a funding bid made by the Prison Governor to improve the prison’s security fencing.
  3. The increase of availability of NPS and mobile phones has come at the same time as the reduction in prison staff numbers. Regrettably there are fewer experienced officers available to deal with difficult and sometimes dangerous situations. The Board remains convinced repercussions from ill-judged staffing reductions continue to impact on the prison’s effectiveness as a place of rehabilitation. Staffing shortages led to the introduction of a restricted regime with a reduced core day from April to September 2015 and again from March 2016, which continues in place.
  4. The Board recognises that many of the criticisms in the adverse HMICP report were fair but in its view, the HMICP report did not take into account the problems created by staff shortages, lack of funding, and the on-going battle with the supply of drugs into the prison. It also under-valued the good work being achieved through limited resources, for example, HMP Rochester’s bicycle workshop won a National Recycling Award for Best Recycling Re-use.
  5. The Board has two other main areas of concern: the loss of prisoner’s property during transfer from one prison to another and the poor performance of maintenance contractor Carillion – where delays are endemic and the bureaucracy wasteful and cumbersome. It urges that reviews are undertaken of both these functions.

The Chair, on behalf of the IMB Board, says:

This has been a challenging year for Rochester, as it strives to deliver within a reduced budget and inadequate staffing levels. To the credit of those working there, it remains a generally well run prison. More needs to be done to deliver the prison’s prime purpose, the rehabilitation of offenders through purposeful activity and to stem the flow of drugs into the prison. There is a continued risk that the lack of inward investment will not allow these issues to be addressed, and generate more difficulties for the prison in the future.