HMIP Inspections of Cookham Wood

The prison was inspected in September 2019, the full reports and Action lans can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:

This report details findings from our latest inspection of HMYOI Cookham Wood, a facility holding up to 188 boys aged between 15 and 18. In common with all young offender institutions (YOIs), and recognising the risks and accountabilities relating to the imprisonment of children, Cookham Wood is subject to independent inspection annually.

When we inspected last year, we reported outcomes for children that were insufficient in three of our healthy prison tests and reasonably good in only one, ‘care’. At this inspection, the situation had deteriorated to the extent that outcomes were now insufficiently good against all our healthy prison tests. Despite these disappointing verdicts, local managers sought to provide some context in terms of their frustration at being unable to recruit and retain sufficient staff. New recruitment initiatives were underway and there was some hope that the impending closure of the adjacent Medway Secure Training Centre (STC) would lead to an influx of transferred staff in the new year. Staff shortages, however, could not have come at a worse time as the institution was running near capacity as children were diverted away from Feltham A YOI, as that institution responded to the Urgent Notification we issued to it earlier in the year.

Cookham Wood was still not safe enough. Children were received into the institution reasonably well but induction arrangements were undermined by extended periods of inactivity and lock-up. Safeguarding procedures were sound and levels of s elf-harm were lower than at comparable prisons, with those in crisis telling us t hey felt supported. Levels of violence, however, some of which was serious, remained high. Work was in place to resolve conflict, supported by a comprehensive behaviour management strategy, but much of this was impeded by the shortage or regular re-deployment of staff. In addition, too much low-level poor behaviour went unchallenged and too little was done to encourage fuller engagement among children. Safety was further undermined by overreliance on reactive ‘keep apart’ lists, which hindered a full and smoothly-run regime, and by significant amounts of lock-up.

Use of force had increased and was high, and more than half of incidents required the full deployment of restraint techniques. Children could also find themselves segregated on at least two units, Bridge and Phoenix, or on normal location. The purpose of these units required clarification and the regime for children on them was too limited, despite the attention of caring and supportive staff. The accommodation on Phoenix was poor.

Relationships between staff and children generally were not good enough. Barely two-thirds of children felt respected and staff rarely had sufficient time to meaningfully engage with them. Relationships were better on the Cedar unit. Accommodation was modern but its upkeep poor : the environment was often grubby and standards of cleanliness and general maintenance required improvement. The quality of food was reasonable but most children were required to eat t heir meals in their cells. Consultation arrangements needed more support and children experienced limited access to application and complaints procedures. The promotion of equality was poor, but the quality of health provision remained good.

We found 28% of children locked in cell during the school day, with most accessing just five hours a day out of cell during the week and two hours at weekends. Access to the gym and library was restricted. Despite some improvements to provision, punctuality and attendance at education and vocational training were poor, which limited education hours and contributed to the fact that only half those engaged on courses completed them. Overall, our colleagues in Ofsted judged the learning and skills provision as ‘requires improvement’, their second lowest assessment.

Oversight of resettlement work was similarly disappointing, lacking focus and coordination. The casework department operated in isolation, many case managers needed better training and only half of children told us they thought they had a custody plan. Those plans that were completed often failed to consider risk of harm or usefully support resettlement. Release on temporary licence (ROTL) assessments and public protection work were not sufficiently robust and in our survey just a quarter of children told us they thought someone was helping them with their release. The lack of suitable accommodation for children being released was very concerning.

In the coming year, progress at Feltham will hopefully ease population pressures at Cookham Wood and the prospect of new staff provides some assurance that managers will be better placed to resolve the problems we identified. At this inspection we saw many hard-working staff and managers, and some improvements were evident, but so was some deterioration. We leave the institution with a number of recommendations which we hope will assist improvement. Priorities we identify include an insistence on higher standards of living conditions and children’s behaviour, a need for a more active regime that incentivises and engages young people and a more robust and better coordinated delivery of effective resettlement services .


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPMHM
Chief Inspector of Prisons
September 2019

Return to Cookham Wood

To read the full reports follow the links below: