HMYOI COOKHAM WOOD – A YOI Which Continues to Improve

cookham woodHMYOI Cookham Wood was well led and working effectively and confidently with the boys it held, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the young offender institution in Kent.

Cookham Wood holds boys aged 15 to 18. It is one of only a few such facilities in England and serves a substantial catchment area across much of southern England, with boys held for many reasons. They range from those recently remanded to those beginning long sentences. In recognition of the risks, challenges and vulnerabilities presented by the boys held, inspectors visit such institutions annually. At its last inspection in May 2015, inspectors were encouraged by progress that had been made. This more recent inspection found that progress had been maintained over the past year, though some safety concerns remained.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • safeguarding and child protection arrangements were well developed;
  • the care offered to boys at risk of self-harm was good;
  • most of the residential units were new, with much of the prison having been rebuilt in recent years, although some areas were grubby;
  • the staff were knowledgeable, caring and working patiently with some boys whose behaviour was very difficult;
  • access to time out of cell was better than at the last inspection, though over a quarter of boys were locked up during the working day;
  • there was enough vocational training and education for all boys to have some access daily, the quality of the teaching was good and those who completed courses achieved qualifications;
  • Ofsted scored the provision ‘good’ across the full range of their assessments, but more needed to be done to prevent routines being disrupted, which affected attendance and punctuality;
  • work to support boys resettling back into the community remained reasonably good, with excellent support from the casework team; and
  • several new offending behaviour interventions had been introduced.


However, inspectors were concerned to find that:


  • the level of violence – some of it serious and including assaults on staff – was a serious concern and despite some significant and innovative work to tackle it, this work was not yet embedded;
  • the huge catchment area contributed to the often late arrival of boys on their initial transfer to Cookham Wood, undermining the early risk assessment and settling in processes, though the attentiveness of staff and good reception and induction arrangements mitigated some of this risk;
  • work to promote family ties remained weak, despite visits provision improving; and
  • some sentence plans paid insufficient attention to the risks young people posed – of harming others and of reoffending.


Peter Clarke said:
“This is a very positive report concerning an institution that continues to improve. Difficulties, risks and weaknesses were being attended to in effective and often creative and innovative ways right across the prison, and it was clear to us that even more improvement was very achievable quite quickly. The prison was led with confidence; the management team seemed cohesive and attentive and an evident strength was the quite impressive culture that was developing among the staff as they grew in both experience and confidence.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:


“I am pleased that the Chief Inspector has acknowledged that Cookham Wood continues to improve, which is to the credit of the Governor and his team.


“There remains more to do, particularly on safety, but work is under way to address this, including the introduction of a new behaviour management strategy and a new unit dedicated to supporting the most challenging offenders.


“The professionalism and commitment of the staff is a real strength and the strong foundations that are now in place will allow the prison to address the recommendations in this report and drive further improvements over the coming months.”

A copy of the full report, published on 17 January, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at:

Cookham Wood – Some improvements but, overall, fears have grown

Cookham Wood
Cookham Wood

Although some improvements had been made at HMYOI Cookham Wood, overall concerns had grown, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the young offender institution in Kent.

At the time of this inspection, HMYOI Cookham Wood held 166 boys, most aged 16 or 17. Successive inspections have noted the very challenging and vulnerable profile of the boys held, but now, for the first time, about 10% of the boys held had been convicted of or charged with murder or manslaughter and faced many years in prison. The challenge of managing all these boys safely and positively was great. Staff required significant skills and experience in working with this age group and needed to know the boys in their care very well. About 25% of the staff were on detached duty and many of them did not know the work, the institution or the boys. Faced with a larger, more challenging population and significant staffing issues, it was not surprising that outcomes for the boys held had deteriorated overall.

The level of risk in YOIs holding children is now such that they are inspected annually, although the degree of scrutiny Cookham Wood receives from inspectors and other bodies is itself a pressure. Despite the difficulties, Cookham Wood had made important progress in some areas in a comparatively short period of time.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • the reception area had improved and boys continued to be well cared for when they first arrived;
  • oversight of safeguarding had now improved, though there were still some weaknesses;
  • staff were now being trained in the new restraint procedure, Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR) that emphasised de-escalation techniques;
  • levels of self-harm had fallen since the last inspection;
  • primary health care had improved and health care staffing was more stable;
  • the environment and the regime in the Phoenix Unit which held boys who needed to be segregated for good order and discipline had improved significantly;
  • boys with complex needs were now held in the Cedar Unit which provided good levels of care;
  • when reviewing CCTV footage, inspectors saw examples of officers responding bravely to protect boys from attacks;
  • work on equality and diversity issues had improved, although there was still more to do;
  • for boys who did get access, the overall effectiveness of education, learning and skills was good; and
  • resettlement was the best performing area of the establishment – all boys had training plans which were regularly reviewed, public protection arrangements were sound and practical planning for release was generally well organised.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • 41% of boys said they had felt unsafe at some time compared with 27% at the last inspection;
  • boys reported more negatively about relationships with staff than at the last inspection;
  • the number of violent incidents remained very high and in the six months leading up to March 2015 there had been 61 assaults and 92 fights, some of which were very serious;
  • staff assaults had almost doubled since the last inspection with 21 in the preceding six months, some resulting in serious injury;
  • behaviour management processes were weak and low-level poor behaviour was not promptly challenged and so it escalated, while good behaviour was not publicly recognised so there was little incentive to behave well;
  • the establishment relied heavily on procedural security measures and, as a consequence, movement around the establishment was severely restricted which limited access to education and other activities;
  • pain compliance techniques were used but not all were recorded;
  • discussion with staff often revealed low expectations and inspectors saw staff backing off from dealing with difficult issues;
  • boys had much too little time out of their cells, and staff shortages meant the establishment was running a restricted regime;
  • inspectors found 36% of boys locked in their cells during the core day, some of whom were too frightened to mix with others, some activities were cancelled and other boys had restrictions placed on what they could do because they had to be kept apart from other boys;
  • there were too few opportunities for boys to do paid work in peer mentor or orderly roles and security restrictions restricted the level of vocational training offered; and
  • 41% of boys said they had been in local authority care, but absences in the establishment’s social worker posts meant that liaison with these boys’ home local authority were not fully effective and it was difficult to ensure they had appropriate accommodation when they left.


Nick Hardwick said:

“Cookham Wood reflects the systemic problems we have identified across the YOI estate. The welcome fall in the number of children in custody means that those who remain represent a more concentrated mix of very challenging young people, held in a smaller number of establishments that are increasingly unsuitable to meet their needs, and cared for by a staff group beset by shortages and a lack of training for their complex and demanding role. This report makes recommendations about what Cookham Wood could and should do to improve, but a much wider political and policy response is needed if we are to fulfil our responsibilities to care for these, our most damaged children, safely and help them to grow into adults who are valued, not feared.”


Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“As the inspector noted, Cookham Wood manages an increasingly complex group of boys. Since the inspection, staff numbers have increased; a new education contract has been introduced; staff have been trained in new restraint techniques and safeguarding measures have been strengthened, all of which have had a positive impact on safety and behaviour.

“Tackling violence and providing a safe environment remains the Governor’s biggest challenge and top priority and work will continue to improve standards even further.”

Read The Report:    

  1. A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 22 September 2015 at:

Teenager found dead in jail cell


A teenage boy has been found dead at a jail near Rochester criticised last year for high levels of violence and a significant use of weapons by inmates.

The boy was discovered unresponsive in his cell at Cookham Wood Young Offenders’ Institution at around 6.40am on Saturday.

The Youth Justice Board said: “The cause of death will be formally determined by inquest but, at the present time, we have no indication that the young person took their own life or that the circumstances were suspicious.”

A Prison Service spokesman said: “Staff attempted resuscitation and paramedics attended but he was pronounced dead at approximately 8am. His next of kin have been informed.

“Every death in custody is a tragedy and we always seek to improve our procedures for caring for prisoners, including young offenders, where possible.”

Significant use of weapons by inmates and “high and rising” levels of violence at the jail were revealed in a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) published in October.

Some 35 weapons were found in a lockdown, and 169 acts of violence were recorded during the six months before the inspection, up from 130 at the previous inspection.

The Howard League for Penal Reform said at the time that assaults and serious injuries had “become the norm” at the jail and cuts had pushed the prison system to “breaking point”.

The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) said the governor was “actively tackling” violence in the jail, staff were being given extra training in behaviour management and use of force had been cut.

Built in the 1970s, Cookham Wood YOI holds up to 131 15 to 18-year-olds who have been sentenced or are on remand.

The Prison Service said: “As with all deaths in custody there will be an investigation by the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.

“Additionally, as he was under the age of 18, there will be a serious case review commissioned by the local safeguarding board.”

A spokesman for the Youth Justice Board said: “We offer our condolences to the family for their tragic loss.

“The relevant agencies are already undertaking inquiries into the circumstances and cause of death, and we want to ensure that any findings are acted on as they arise.”