Owers urges cap on numbers at ‘unsafe’ Cookham Wood YOI

Chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers today called on the Youth Justice Board to cap the number of young inmates at Cookham Wood Young Offender Institution until their safety can be guaranteed, following a damning inspection report.

Owers’ first full inspection of the Kent facility since it changed last May from being an adult female prison to a YOI found safety procedures were “woefully underdeveloped” and that its safeguarding policy “remained largely unimplemented”.

Too many inmates

Inspectors, who visited Cookham Wood in February, blamed the failings on the YOI accepting too many inmates too soon and said that not enough staff with experience of working with young people had been employed.

Owers said that staff had also not been given adequate training and that essential safety procedures had not been properly developed.

‘Seriously unsafe environment’

She continued: “The result, perhaps inevitably, was a seriously unsafe and poorly controlled environment, with some tense relationships between staff and young people.

“Some areas, notably education and resettlement, were sound and demonstrated what could be achieved quickly, but – as we immediately made clear to the Youth Justice Board – there must be a cap on the number of young people held at Cookham Wood until the Prison Service can guarantee appropriate levels of safety.”

No dedicated social worker

The report said that although the YOI’s child protection procedures were “efficient”, it did not employ a dedicated social work for looked-after children and as a result work with this vulnerable group was “limited”.

The report also said that use of force was “high”, with prison staff on occasions using force to implement an order. It added: “Relationships between staff and young people on the residential units were frequently tense and neither appeared to feel safe.”

Poor monitoring of self-harm

Levels of self-harm were found to be low, but just 60% of staff had been trained in suicide and self-harm prevention. Monitoring and case management of self-harm incidents were also found to be inconsistent and weak.

In addition, although complaints over racist incidents had been “rigorously investigated”, less than half of staff had been given diversity training.

YJB/Noms: Cookham Wood has improved

A joint statement by Peter Carroll, area manager for the National Offender Management Service, and Frances Done, YJB chair, said that safety procedures at Cookham Wood had been improved since the inspection.

It added: “The prison now has a full contingent of permanent staff who have all volunteered to work with young people. Those coming into the juvenile estate for the first time are receiving appropriate training, and relationships and the behaviour of the young people has improved. Instances of bullying, adjudications and use of force have all fallen significantly as a result.”

The statement also confirmed that the YJB was actively managing the number of young people being placed at the prison.

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