Category Archives: HM Prisons Inspectorate

HMYOI Cookham Wood: Violence and self-harm have increased at a youth jail


In the year since the last inspection of HMYOI Cookham Wood in September 2016, when a total of 54 recommendations were made (below), 16 had been implemented by the time of this inspection. An Implementation rate of 30%.

Safety: 15 recommendations made, 7 implemented.

Respect: 20 recommendations made, 4 implemented.

Purposeful Activity: 8 recommendations made, 2 implemented.

Resettlement: 11 recommendations made, 3 implemented.

In a report published 9th January 2018 Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons said:

Cookham Wood young offender institution near Rochester in Kent has the capacity to accommodate 188 boys aged 15 to 18. At the time of our inspection there were 161 boys in residence from a catchment area extending across much of southern England. Boys were being detained for many reasons, and ranged from those recently remanded to those beginning lengthy and sometimes indeterminate sentences. Due to the risks, challenges and vulnerabilities presented by the profile of boys held in the youth estate, institutions like Cookham Wood are inspected annually. Our last inspection was in September 2016 when the establishment had made good progress and had improved in two of our healthy prison tests, respect and purposeful activity. We were therefore concerned that this progress had not been maintained over the last year, and in three areas – respect, purposeful activity and resettlement – it had declined.

Early days work continued to be a strength and boys were supported well in reception and on the induction unit. Governance of the yellow and green card reward system had improved. There was also a good range of interventions available to support boys and help them to progress.

However, one in four boys reported having felt unsafe, a figure which had more than doubled since the last inspection. Levels of violence and incidents of self-harm, two of the key indicators of safety, had increased. There was little evidence of an effective strategy to reduce the violence and address the poor behaviour. Instead we found under-reporting of incidents and behaviour management tools that were underused. We observed boys who were not challenged when they were deliberately holding up movement and making inappropriate comments to other boys and staff. Some serious incidents of violence also went without punishment due to the amount of adjudication hearings that were not proceeded with.

At the last inspection we praised the introduction of the integrated behaviour management system ‘positive attitudes created together’ (PACT) as a useful tool for managing violence and bullying and providing support for victims. We were also encouraged by newly implemented plans to progress boys out of segregation into units designed to provide enhanced support for those with complex needs and behaviours. On this inspection we were disappointed to find that the PACT system had fallen into disuse and there had been an inexplicable lack of progress in developing the enhanced support units. We found that the progression landing (B1) provided a regime akin to that offered on the segregation unit and that these regimes, as well as the regime on Cedar unit, were too frequently curtailed.

The main prison regime was also poor and unpredictable. The lack of time out of cell restricted access to education, interventions and meaningful interaction with staff and other boys. What was perhaps most unforgivable was that there were many skilled staff and partners who were keen to work with boys to help them progress but their efforts were frustrated by the failure to unlock boys on time, if at all. We were told by numerous professionals that this was not uncommon. The lack of a shared sense of purpose and integration between some residential staff and those delivering interventions was hindering the progress of boys at Cookham Wood. While we did not underestimate the risks presented by some of the boys at the establishment and the need to manage their movements carefully, some of the unlock procedures were unnecessarily cumbersome and created further delays to an already curtailed regime.

Finally, while the establishment recognised that they held many boys who posed significant risk, there was insufficient focus on the reduction of these risks. Sentence plans did not drive boys’ progression through their time at Cookham Wood. Objectives were not focused on the reduction of risk and reviews were not attended by the staff who needed to help them meet those objectives.

A new governor had been appointed just weeks before our visit. We were encouraged by his optimism and plans to address the issues we have highlighted in our report. Cookham Wood retains many redeeming features, not least an extended team of enthusiastic staff with a wide range of skills. They now need to focus on ensuring that boys can access the services they need to progress.

A copy of the report is on the HMI website 


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