The latest annual Independent Review of Progress (IRP) report conducted at HMP Maidstone found that, whilst improvements had been made within the prison, there remained ‘considerable challenges ahead’.
This latest report details findings from an inspection in November 2023 which was a follow up from an earlier inspection in September 2022. The prison was found to have made reasonable progress in some areas but there were no areas where good progress had been made.
Significantly, in September 2022, HMP Maidstone was found to have a high number of foreign national prisoners which was recorded as approximately 600. This presented unique challenges for the prison, with the 2022 report concluding there was a lack of focus on the vulnerabilities that affected foreign national prisoners with uncertain immigration status.
Crucially, the latest report found that, whilst some improvements had been made by rolling out a foreign national prisoner training package, this was still in its early stages and ongoing issues with safety remained. This was tragically highlighted by two self-inflicted deaths in the previous five months, and it was found that prisoners remained anxious about their immigration status. Despite this, some early success was found in systems created to identify and remedy problems faced by the prisoners. There were now more opportunities for prisoners to speak to the Home Office about their cases, which was an improvement from previous reports of frustration due to ineffective systems in place.
The latest report also found that living conditions in the prison had improved since 2022. Whilst prison conditions remained variable with some cells still in a poor state, the shower areas had been refurbished and no broken furniture was found. The units were also being painted and many were ‘generally tidy, clean and well maintained.’
There were some positive improvements found by OFSTED in relation to the prison education as there were now sufficient staff to deliver a suitable curriculum and qualification rates were good. However, it was found that overall improvement in the quality of education, learning, and skills had been ‘too slow’ and there was not enough full-time purposeful activity. The report also found that prisoners were being held back and unable to progress with their sentences because of a failure to offer offending behaviour programmes that were a requirement of many sentence plans.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, recognised in the report that the governor had a ‘clear sighted’ view of the considerable challenges ahead at HMP Maidstone. He said that whilst there had been steady progress, it was now time ‘to speed up the pace of change.’