In its 2022/23 annual report published today, the Rochester Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) reports that the prison continues to provide a safe and decent environment for prisoners, even though there was a small increase in violence and intimidation following the lifting of Covid restrictions. Shortages of prison officers, trainers and other staff impacted on the prison’s ability to fulfil its resettlement function.
The Board notes that:
- Rochester provides as safe and decent environment for prisoners as resources permit.
- Staffing shortages delayed the opening up of the prison regime following the lifting of Covid restrictions. There was a small increase in violence and intimidation as the restrictions eased. However, the atmosphere at the prison remained positive and unthreatening.
- Prison officers are observed to 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, and the brewing of fermented liquid (known as hooch) continues to have a serious impact on the work of the prison. While this has been reduced by improved entrance searching, Rochester’s open location means that items can be thrown over the walls.
- Although the restricted regime has been lifted, the staffing shortage means there is still insufficient activity and work available for prisoners. This has a detrimental impact on prisoners who are unable to complete their sentence plans and undermines the role HMP Rochester has as a resettlement and training prison. The Board hopes more purposeful activity can become available 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.
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. The availability of drugs and other contraband within the prison continues to be a serious problem. The limited range of activities and work that can be provided is disappointing, in spite of the best efforts of the management team, and consequently the prison has been unable to meet its remit as a resettlement prison. Hopefully a wider range of meaningful activity can be provided at the prison than in the past.’