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Cookham Wood: a failing youth prison

Cookham Wood: a failing youth prison


Violence is rife and some boys spend more than 100 days in solitary confinement at the young offender institution in Kent. It has had problems for years, so what can be done to fix it?

The prison watchdog has found that some boys spent more than 100 days in solitary confinement at a youth prison where violence was rife.

Cookham Wood is a young offender institution in Rochdale in Kent that’s capable of holding 120 boys between the ages of 15 and 17. Some are awaiting trial and others are serving sentences for serious crimes.

In April this year inspectors carried out an unannounced visit and the report they published in July revealed serious failings.

They found that there had been a near total breakdown in behaviour management and 228 makeshift weapons had been found in the six months before their inspection, many more than similar institutions.

The report described conditions there as “appalling”. It said members of staff were “demoralised” and “frightened”. Some appeared to have “given up.”

The Chief Inspector of Prisons was so concerned by what he called the “appalling” conditions that he wrote to the Justice Secretary Alex Chalk demanding urgent improvements.

The Ministry of Justice said the report was “deeply concerning” and that it was taking “decisive action”, but there have been problems at Cookham Wood for years.

Cookham Wood became a young offender institution in 2008. The next year a report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons described it as “a frightening and unsafe place.” She said that “bullying was rife,” boys were so frightened that they “hid in their cells” all day and that there were “uneasy relationships between staff and young people.”

The report made a number of urgent recommendations, but a year later a follow-up inspection found the prison still had “serious failings.” 

Subsequent annual reports did acknowledge some improvements, but conditions were still falling below standards. 

In 2015 investigators made an unannounced visit and found that Cookham Wood was “inflicting pain and misery” on the boys in its care. In the years that followed inspections revealed that conditions were declining. In 2021 the prison watchdog said levels of violence among young offenders needed to be tackled as a priority.

Now it’s 2023 and this latest report is the worst one yet.