HM Prison Aldington
HM Prison Aldington is a Category C men’s prison located in the county of Kent in South East England. First opened in 1842, Aldington has a long and complex history, gaining notoriety at times as an outdated and struggling prison. However, recent years have seen major reforms and modernization take place, as prison authorities attempt to improve conditions, safety and rehabilitation programs.
Location and Layout
Aldington Prison is situated in the village of Aldington, approximately 10 miles from the historic cathedral city of Canterbury. The prison has a capacity for around 600 inmates and is comprised of three main accommodation blocks – A, B and C Wings. It also contains kitchens, work areas, education facilities, a gymnasium, healthcare unit and administrative offices. There are several workshops on-site, providing employment opportunities for prisoners. The prison is surrounded by a high concrete wall with secure fencing.
Prison Regime and Operations
A typical day for a prisoner at Aldington involves roll call, work duties, meals, association time, educational classes and lock-up. Prisoners have access to vocational training courses, such as welding, construction, horticulture and industrial cleaning. Basic literacy and numeracy education is also provided. Many prisoners have jobs maintaining the facilities, serving food, cleaning, etc. Medium-to-high risk prisoners have restrictions placed on their movement and privileges. Security features include patrols, surveillance cameras, barred windows and random cell searches. The prison has faced challenges providing adequate access to rehabilitation services due to budget constraints.
Aldington holds adult male prisoners aged 18 and over, primarily those sentenced for non-violent crimes like theft, fraud and drug offenses. Approximately 40% of prisoners are serving sentences of 4 years or less. Around 25% are convicted of violent crimes like assault, robbery or domestic violence. The prison population comes from across the South East region. Ethnic minority prisoners make up 18% of inmates. Issues with overcrowding have plagued the prison, causing tensions among inmates.
Notable Events and Incidents
One of the most notorious incidents was in 1997 when over 100 prisoners staged a riot, causing extensive damage and taking staff hostage for over 18 hours. More recently, in 2016, there was a surge in violence and drug use at the prison. The Independent Monitoring Board warned about dangerous conditions due to staff shortages in its 2018 annual report. There was also controversy when prisoners were put under effective lockdown in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prisoner accommodation consists of small single cells with bunk beds, desks and toilet/handwashing facilities. Some cells house 2 prisoners, though many hold only 1. Cells are adequately lit and ventilated. However, many are overcrowded. Food quality has been criticized as below standard. Recreational facilities are limited for the population size. Access to telephones and showers is restricted due to demand. Prisoner complaints typically involve noise, dilapidated conditions, shortages of basic supplies and inadequate access to amenities.
Staff and Management
Aldington employs around 215 staff members encompassing prison officers, support workers, healthcare professionals, educational tutors, maintenance crews and administrative personnel. Staff have faced heavy workloads due to understaffing. Many new officers leave shortly after training, citing burnout. The Governor oversees prison operations and is supported by several functional heads like the Head of Security, Regime Manager, and Offender Management Unit manager. Staff training is focused on control, restraint techniques and report writing. Counseling skills are lacking, according to inspectors.
Impact and Controversies
Recurring issues such as overcrowding, understaffing, lack of constructive activities for prisoners and deteriorating facilities have led to heavy criticism of Aldington by prison reform campaigners and human rights groups. The Prison Officers Association has decried unsafe, stressful conditions for both inmates and staff. Use of temporary restricted regimes has also drawn condemnation, along with several suicides and self-harm incidents. The prison has struggled to shake its reputation for being “outdated, ineffective and even inhumane”, according to some monitors.
In the past few years, Aldington has tried improving vocational programs, education, healthcare services and rehabilitation support. A peer-mentoring initiative was introduced in 2021 to help address violence. Additional staff have been hired, including more counselors and social workers. Refurbishment projects from 2018-2020 upgraded communal areas, kitchens and cells. A new violence reduction strategy was implemented following a spate of assaults in 2022. Further expansions of workshops and classrooms are planned. However, progress has been slow and capacity issues continue hampering reform efforts.
Looking ahead, HM Prison Aldington faces significant challenges but also opportunities. The recent appointment of a new reform-minded Governor could signal positive changes. Proposed construction of two new accommodation blocks would help ease overcrowding. Installation of in-cell telephones and technology is being considered to improve conditions. There are hopes to strengthen partnerships with community organizations and employers to provide more constructive resettlement pathways for prisoners upon release. However, budget constraints remain a barrier. Achieving a balanced, rehabilitative and safe regime requires sustained long-term investment and vision.
While HM Prison Aldington has faced reputational damage and struggles in its long history, incremental reforms and modernizations in recent times provide some hope. However, lasting change will not occur overnight. Successfully transforming aged facilities and outdated practices at Aldington requires patience, resources and commitment from prison management, staff, government and society. Although progress will be difficult, the potential social benefits of having a more humane, constructive prison that helps reform offenders outweigh the costs.
What category of prison is Aldington?
Aldington is categorized as a Category C prison, holding medium-risk adult male inmates.
How many prisoners are at Aldington?
The operational capacity is around 600 inmates, though it has held over 700 at times.
What are the main problems at the prison?
Key issues have included overcrowding, understaffing, poor living conditions, lack of rehabilitation services, and high levels of violence and drug use.
Have there been any riots or protests?
Yes, the most notable being the major riot in 1997 involving a hostage situation with guards. There have been smaller protests over conditions.
Is Aldington still operational today?
Yes, HM Prison Aldington remains open today as an adult male prison in the Kent area. It has undergone some reforms but still faces challenges.