Government announces measures to improve safety at Cookham Wood
A package of urgent measures to improve safety and rehabilitation at HMYOI Cookham Wood has been outlined by Prisons Minister Damian Hinds.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons urged the Urgent Notification process to be introduced at HMYOI Cookham Wood following the inspectorate's unannounced inspection between 4-20 April 2023.
The UN came after inspectors found the solitary confinement of children had become normalised at the young offender institution (YOI) in Rochester, Kent, for boys and young men aged 15 to 18, with more than one quarter of children being completely segregated from the main population.
Furthermore, most were locked in their cells for 23.5 hours a day, education was rarely delivered to those in solitary confinement, there was a breakdown in behaviour management with widespread weapon making, staff did not have confidence in leaders and managers and there was staff shortages in some areas of the establishment.
The Urgent Notification process was introduced by the government in 2017 to ensure immediate, urgent action was taken to address serious concerns identified by inspectors. As part of the Urgent Notification process, Ministers have 28 days to respond to the notice and set out how they will make the rapid change needed.
Damian Hinds outlined how in four weeks, significant improvements are already underway, including:
Expert teams have been deployed to train staff and improve the care provided to children, ensuring they are rehabilitated, educated, and leave custody with better prospects than when they entered it.
A crackdown on weapons with search teams.
The number of young people being kept apart has already reduced.
An improvement notice has been issued to Cookham Wood’s outsourced education provider, requiring them to develop an action plan to improve the quality of education delivered.
Cookham Wood is now receiving dedicated support from HMPPS to unlock additional resources and improve the retention and recruitment of staff.
"Children should feel safe in custody and leave in a better state than when they entered it. These measures to tackle gang violence and improve education will make sure we can rehabilitate these children and reduce their risk of reoffending," he added.
The action plan outlines how ministers will continue to build upon these improvements and hold the YOI to account over the coming weeks and months.
Chief executive of WIPERS, Sammy Odoi, said: "Improvements in these establishments are vital to ensure that vulnerable children, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, are not further traumatised by their time in custody."
"Education, training and help gaining employment post-custody is essential to breaking the cycle of re-offending and turning young people away from a life of crime. Long periods of time festering in their cells with little to no education or training will create angry, hostile young people when they leave custody and hinders the process of reintegration and desistance," concluded Sammy Odoi.