The multi-million pound development of Rochester Prison has been delayed by at least two years and still may not happen then.
Despite Justice Secretary Liz Truss announcing in March the prison will temporarily close so it can be redeveloped with new modern cells as part of a major expansion to the prison estate, the Medway Messenger has learnt the closure has now been put off until at least 2019, and may still not go ahead then.
The site in Fort Road, which is also a dual purpose Category C prison and Young Offenders’ Institution, was originally going to close in September with inmates and staff transferred to other sites while building work took place.
Some staff have already been relocated to other establishments, some moving themselves and their families out of the area with some being given jobs in an establishment in Wales.
However, the prison expansion and modernisation has now been put off because of a sharp rise in the prison population nationally.
The decision to announce the closure was taken in the context of prison population projections which indicated a fall this year.
But instead of the decrease the population has increased significantly within the last two months, at the beginning of May the population was 85,129 but by the middle of this month, that number had increased to 85,994.
As a result the Prison Service has now delayed the closure until at least 2019, when the matter will then be reviewed.
The Prison Service says it has enough capacity to manage the population at this level and has built a new prison in Wales which has more than 430 cells and has opened an extra 155 cells at other prisons around the country.
Some old cells at HMP Rochester, in Fort Road, have already been refurbished and are now being used, but this is not thought to be more than about half-a-dozen.
The decision to keep the establishment open is a precaution against any further increase in the prison population and will be reviewed in 2019 and other options being considered could see alternative sites used which would not need redevelopment.
However the move has angered some prison officers who work at the site who say their future has been uncertain for months and now the uncertainty will continue for the next two years.
One officer who didn’t want to be named, said there had been a meeting at the prison about the issue.
He added: “There was a full staff meeting and we were told about the change, some people where happy about it, some were not.
“There is no building work going on at the moment on the site but there have been surveyors walking round.
“I will stay here as long as I can. I don’t want to move and by the looks of it, I may never have to. It is all up in the air.”
Another officer, who had not yet transferred to another prison, said she felt sorry for the ones who had already been relocated.
The woman who also didn’t want to be named, added: “Well it will be good for me to stay at Rochester, but I will have to go through the whole process again in two years.
“I am gutted for the others who have already left or moved to other prisons.
“Some I know have moved to Wales and up sticks and moved their whole families.
“It is shocking how things keep changing.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are keeping cells at HMP Rochester and HMP Hindley in use as part of a programme of forward-planning for the prison estate.
“This is an operational decision to help manage any potential increase in offenders sent to us by the courts.
“We will continue to work closely with the staff affected and the Prison Officers Association.
“We are committed to transforming all prisons into places of safety and reform, and still plan to redevelop the prison as part of our £1.3bn plans to modernise the estate.”