HMIP Inspections of Cookham Wood

The prison was inspected in August 2021, the full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:

Providing relatively new accommodation, Cookham Wood in Kent is a well-established young offender institution (YOI) that has been largely redeveloped in recent years. The institution can hold up to 188 boys between the ages of 15 and 18, but due to reductions in the population of children in custody during the COVID-19 pandemic, at the time of our inspection there were just 87 boys in residence. Coming from the greater part of south and south-east England, these boys had varying status, ranging from those recently remanded to those serving indeterminate sentences for the most serious of offences. The risks associated with the detention of such young people mean that this is the latest in a series of annual inspections, although there was some interruption during the pandemic.

When we last fully inspected Cookham Wood in 2019, we were concerned to find that outcomes for children were not sufficiently good against any of our four tests of a healthy institution. At this inspection we found they had not improved and had in fact worsened in our purposeful activity test, where outcomes were now poor. For an institution providing services to children this inability to address failings was completely unacceptable. Admittedly the restrictions imposed by the pandemic had not helped, but it was hard to understand why the institution had not been more ambitious in, for example, providing a better regime, perhaps adopting an approach that mirrored more closely that adopted for children in the community or at other YOIs. As it was, we found parts of the prison where more than half of children were locked in cell during the school day and typically spent as little as four hours a day out of cell, and just two hours at weekends.

We found low morale among staff, low standards, low expectations and a lack of energy and creativity that could engage and motivate children to use their time at Cookham Wood usefully, despite holding only half the young people it was resourced to hold. The response to difficulties found between children was invariably limited to keeping them apart, placing further restrictions on the regime. Leaders needed to find ways to move beyond this reactive and limiting approach, starting with energetic and motivational engagement with children, as well as the clear demarcation and enforcement of standards.

The key to this is good local leadership and national leadership through HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). Since we last inspected a new governor and a further six senior managers had been appointed. The governor was beginning to implement a business plan which prioritised reducing violence, the creation of communities and investing in staff. These priorities seemed reasonable, although it was too early to discern progress and we were not convinced that staff were fully aware or engaged with this vision. Their engagement was not, however, optional. Staff needed clarity about what was expected of them and leaders needed to show greater rigour in ensuring policies were understood and delivered. Poor practice and behaviour needed to be challenged consistently, and staff needed to make sure basic standards were maintained.

We encourage close scrutiny by HMPPS, and the provision of support to assist the new governor of Cookham Wood. There needs to be a shared and collective determination that establishes how and when improvements will be made.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
September 2021

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To read the full reports follow the links below:

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