HMIP Inspections of Cookham Wood

The prison was inspected in summer 2016, the full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:

Cookham Wood, near Rochester in Kent, is a young offender institution holding boys aged 15 to 18. One of only a few such facilities nationally, the institution 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 lengthy, sometimes indeterminate, sentences. In recognition of the risks, challenges and vulnerabilities presented by the profile of the boys held, such institutions are inspected annually. When we visited Cookham Wood in May 2015 we were encouraged by the progress the institution had made. This progress had been maintained over the last year with improvement evident in two of our healthy prison tests – respect and purposeful activity – although some concerns in the area of safety remained.

Cookham Wood’s huge catchment area continued to contribute to the often late arrival of boys on their initial transfer to the institution, undermining the early risk assessment and settling in processes. The attentiveness of staff and some good reception and induction arrangements mitigated some of this risk. We found safeguarding and child protection arrangements to be well-developed, showing better scrutiny and improved relationships with the local authority. The care offered to boys who were at risk of self-harm was also good.

The prison’s greatest challenge remained the levels  of violence – much of it quite serious and concerted and including assaults upon staff. We recognised some significant and innovative work to try to improve matters. This included a new behaviour management strategy, some robust procedural security arrangements and the development of the new B1 unit, a facility intended to support progression amongst some hard-to-reach boys. Much of this work, however, was still to fully embed and prove its effectiveness. This report contains a main recommendation which we hope will support the continuation of these strategies.

Most of the residential units at Cookham Wood were new, with much of the prison having been rebuilt in recent years. Accommodation standards were high, although some areas were disappointingly grubby and access to kit was not good enough. The staff, in contrast, were knowledgeable and caring and working patiently with some very difficult young people. The promotion of equality and diversity was improving although much more needed to be done. Access to time out of cell was better than at the last inspection, although we still found over a quarter of boys locked in cell during the working day. There was sufficient activity for all boys to have some access daily, with a balanced range of education options provided, although vocational training opportunities were more limited. The quality of teaching was good, as was the achievement of qualifications for those who completed courses. Our colleagues from Ofsted  scored the provision as ‘good’ across the full range of their assessments, and arguably it could have been better still but for disruptions to routines and weak coordination that hampered attendance and punctuality. One of our main recommendations asks that the institution prioritises improvements in this area.

Work to support resettlement remained reasonably good with better use of temporary release to aid reintegration and excellent support from the institution’s casework team. Some sentence plans, however, were too generic and paid insufficient attention to risk of harm and risk of reoffending. Visits provision had improved but work to promote family ties and parenting remained weak. Several new offending behaviour interventions had been usefully introduced over the preceding year.

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 amongst the staff as they grew in both experience and confidence.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                November  2016                                                                          

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons



Return to Cookham Wood

To read the full reports follow the links below: