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Serious concerns over safety and decency for children at HMYOI Cookham Wood

In April 2023, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons found “a near total breakdown in behaviour management” at Cookham Wood and called for a “concerted and urgent response … to make the institution a safe and decent place to hold children”. Although much work has taken place since then to improve the situation, the urgent need for more to be done remains. The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for HMYOI Cookham Wood has consistently been raising similar concerns as HMIP, as evidenced in its 2022-23 annual report.

The IMB report highlights four daily restrictions, which, taken together, generated resentment and anger in many boys, and boredom and lethargy amongst many more:

  • An inhumane length of time spent locked in cells– up to 22 hours a day.
  • Inconsistency and last-minute changes to the boys’ daily timetable due to a lack of available staff – a source of constant frustration for the boys.
  • Far too many boys were separated from others, a default strategy used to “keep boys safe by keeping them apart”. This, in the IMB’s view, generates fearfulness and an expectation of violence amongst the boys.
  • Above all, consistently inadequate officer numbers to meet the boys’ needs.

These restrictions heightened volatility at Cookham Wood and, the IMB believes, led directly to an increase in violent behaviour. They also greatly disrupted the boys’ education and rehabilitation programmes and, crucially, minimised opportunities for them to develop trust and understanding and to build healthy, positive relationships with each other and with adults.

IMB Cookham Wood Co-Chair, Keith Morrison, said:

“Teenagers in Cookham Wood YOI were being routinely held on their own, locked in their cells for very long periods – isolated from their peers; some for up to 22 or 23 hours a day. We have reported this in previous years, and the situation has continued. In our last annual report, we described an inhumane regime; if anything, this year it got worse.”