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Rochester prison is a safe and decent environment, but Covid restrictions have had an impact

In its 2021/22 annual report published today, the Rochester Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) reports that the prison continues to provide a safe and decent environment for prisoners. Covid restrictions have prevented the spread of the virus, and reduced violence, but the limited time out of cell has had an impact on prisoners’ mental health and the ability of the prison to meet resettlement needs.

The Board notes that:

  • Rochester provides as safe and decent environment for prisoners as resources permit.
  • The ongoing restricted regime required to limit Covid-19 reduced violence and intimidation.
  • Prison officers deal sympathetically and effectively with prisoners, some of whom have complex needs that are difficult to meet.

However, the Board also raised a number of concerns:

  •  The availability of contraband including drugs, mobile phones and tobacco continues to have a serious impact on the work of the prison. While this has been reduced by improved searching, Rochester’s open location means that items can be thrown over the walls.
  • During this reporting period, the restricted regime only allowed prisoners two hours a day outside their cells. This has had a detrimental impact on the mental health of prisoners, and the lack of activities and work has also meant that it cannot fulfil its resettlement role. The Board hopes the prison can return to a less restrictive regime as soon as possible.
  • Many of the buildings are Edwardian, structurally poor, dilapidated, and difficult to modernise and maintain. The four additional newer wings have ongoing issues with ventilation and heating and are beyond their intended use date.
  • Rochester is a category C prison, but it still holds too many prisoners who have gained category D status and are waiting to be moved to open conditions. Having worked hard to achieve category D status, this is frustrating and demotivating for many prisoners.

The Chair of IMB Rochester said:

‘To the credit of those working there, HMP Rochester has remained a stable and well-run prison during another challenging year.  While lockdown limited the availability of drugs and other contraband within the prison, this is still a serious problem. In keeping with restrictions, a limited range of activities and work was provided, but consequently the prison has been unable to meet its remit as a resettlement prison.  The Board notes that some activities are reopening, and future plans include the provision of more meaningful activity than in the past.’