HMP Rochester - some deterioration

Progress had stalled at HMP Rochester, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the training prison in Kent.

HMP Rochester holds around 740 adult and young adult male prisoners on a mix of old and new accommodation situated on a large site. Prisoners serve a full range of sentences from the relatively short up to life. At its last inspection in 2013, the prison was undergoing significant management and operational change as an early adopter of a benchmarking and efficiency programme. The prison was emerging from another period of transition and was only now getting near to the full complement of staff needed and a more consistent delivery of its daily routine. The prison was not progressing and resettlement services provision had deteriorated. Safety remained a significant concern.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • a fifth of prisoners reported feeling unsafe, first night and induction arrangements were inadequate and levels of violence were too high;
  • mandatory drug testing suggested higher than expected levels of drug use and there was evidence of considerable amounts of new psychoactive substances in the prison, yet too many staff seemed complacent of the issue and its impact;
  • levels of self-harm were high and care for those at risk was inadequate;
  • the use of formal disciplinary procedures was high, use of force was high and increasing, and the use of the special cell was very high for a training prison;
  • living conditions were poor and work to promote equality was weak;
  • progress in education, training and work was undermined by poor attendance, and staff were not sufficiently attentive in getting prisoners to work or education on time; and
  • resettlement work was disjointed and offender management required improvement.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • prisoners were generally positive about their relationship with staff, although inspectors felt that too much poor behaviour went unchallenged by staff;
  • prisoners had very good access to time out of cell;
  • the prison had improved the amount of purposeful activity since its last inspection, which was now sufficient to meet the needs of the population; and
  • the range of education, training and work places was good, as was vocational and classroom teaching;

Nick Hardwick said:

“Rochester is a prison which has gone through big changes in recent years but has not made the progress hoped for. It is a prison, however, not without advantages. It is near to having the number of staff it needs, it has sufficient activity and it has a clear purpose serving as a resettlement prison to its local community. We were told of plans for the future but our overriding impression was that it was a prison that just needed to focus on the basics. A robust drug strategy, cleaning the prison up, getting prisoners to work on time and some joined-up thinking about their approach to resettling prisoners would be good places to start.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“As the Chief Inspector has found, Rochester faces a significant challenge from new psychoactive substances, or so called ‘legal highs’. Staff are determined to tackle this and have already put in place additional security measures, as well as increasing awareness about the dangers and extending support to overcome substance misuse issues.

“Since this inspection, progress has also been made to improve safety and purposeful activity with more prisoners engaged in high quality work and training opportunities.

“We will use the recommendations in this report to drive further improvements over the coming months.”


Notes to editors:    

  1. Read the report.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. HMP Rochester is a category C resettlement prison for both adult male prisoners and young offenders.
  4. This unannounced inspection was carried out from 1-11 September 2015.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information or to request an interview.