HMP & YOI Rochester - settled but much more could be done to provide activity

Read the report: HMP & YOI Rochester

HMP & YOI Rochester, in Kent, was found by inspectors to be reasonably safe and settled, despite some poor living conditions for prisoners.

However, staffing shortages and the slow pace of easing COVID-19 restrictions meant a poor daily regime. Most prisoners spent over 22 hours locked in their cells each day and too few took part in any form of purposeful activity, either remotely or face to face.

The category C training and resettlement prison, holding 658 adult and young male offenders, was last inspected in 2017, when it was in a state of flux, with plans to close it just rescinded. Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that at the latest inspection, in October 2021, “the situation had changed radically and, far from closure, there was now talk of potential plans to redevelop the site.

“Whether these plans come to fruition remains to be seen although, as our report shows, a key strategic priority for the prison is the need to end overcrowding and radically improve the condition of the living accommodation in which prisoners were held. The establishment comprises a mix of very old house blocks and some relatively new. All, however, were in a very poor condition.” The prison had a rodent infestation, was overcrowded and had many unscreened cell toilets. Inspectors were concerned about some unsafe electrical fittings.

Mr Taylor added, though:

“Overall, and in the context of the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, this was a reasonable inspection. As we found in 2017, outcomes in safety remained reasonably good, but were not sufficiently good in respect, principally due to the very poor living environment. In purposeful activity outcomes had deteriorated and were now poor – largely a consequence of COVID-19 restrictions – but outcomes had improved in rehabilitation and release planning to the extent that they were now reasonably good.

“It was clear that leaders in the prison had prioritised Rochester’s response to the pandemic and had, commendably, been successful in mitigating risks. As the prison recovered however, progress to us seemed slow, even tentative. The reasons and explanations we heard for this were often unclear and inconsistent. Too few prisoners were engaged in useful activity.”

Plans for further recovery of a meaningful daily regime seemed to be fragile and unambitious.

Mr Taylor said:

“It must be acknowledged that another key strategic challenge for the prison – and one that was a significant additional limitation on progress – was the chronic shortage of staff. In common with other prisons in the Kent area, staff attrition rates were high and recruitment very slow. It was not clear that the prison had a credible plan to resolve this.”

In conclusion, Mr Taylor added:

“Rochester was achieving reasonably good outcomes in some important areas. The prison was settled, and prisoners seemed generally accepting, even sanguine about their situation, despite the poor living conditions and lack of activity. It was hard to avoid the sense, however, that with greater confidence, ambition and clarity of purpose from leaders, more could have been achieved. Clearer plans about the prison’s future, including how it will be redeveloped, and a robust strategy – probably led by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) – to ensure effective recruitment are the two critical priorities.”

– End –

Notes to editors

  1. Read the HMP & YOI Rochester report, published on 1 February 2022.
  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. Rochester prison was originally built in 1874 on a former military site above the Medway River. In 1983, Rochester was converted into a youth custody centre and, in 1988, it became a remand centre for Kent courts. In 2011, Rochester was turned into a dual-purpose site for young adult and adult category C prisoners. Following a rescinded closure notice in 2017, it held young adult and adult category C and D prisoners.
  4. Inspectors identified four examples of notable positive practice during this inspection.
  5. The inspection took place on 4 and 11–15 October 2021.
  6. Please contact John Steele at or on 07880 787452 if you would like more information.