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17 Jan 2017

Howard League responds to Cookham Wood prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Cookham Wood prison, published today (Tuesday 17 January).

Inspectors visited the prison in September 2016. It holds about 150 boys aged 15 to 18.

Although the report praises staff and describes the prison as “well led and working effectively”, it also reveals that there were at least 127 violent incidents in the prison in the six months prior to the inspection. Of these, 33 were recorded as assaults on children. Inspectors found data on the prison’s reporting system that indicated that the actual numbers could have been even higher. It also found that more than a quarter of the boys were locked up during the working day.

Forty-four children in Cookham Wood prison called the Howard League advice line during 2016, asking for help with a total of 57 legal issues.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is a disappointing report. A child is assaulted every six days in Cookham Wood, and it is surprising that a prison can be said to be performing well overall when the level of violence is so high.

“Particularly concerning is the report’s suggestion that a new progression unit was an appropriate response to the main challenges the prison faces in managing behaviour. Children have told us that the very first step in that scheme is at least a week in solitary confinement.

“It is also concerning that inspectors deemed governance of adjudications to be reasonably good. Research by the Howard League has shown that the number of additional days’ imprisonment imposed on boys in Cookham Wood rose by a staggering 279 per cent in the space of 12 months – from 207 in 2014 to 784 in 2015.

“Prisons, especially those holding children, need to be encouraged to focus on a full and active regime, with suitably qualified staff, rather than managing the inevitable consequences of keeping boys cooped up for hours on end.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. A copy of the Cookham Wood inspection report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.
  1. More information about adjudications and the imposition of additional days’ imprisonment in prisons in England and Wales can be found in the Howard League report A Million Days: The world of prison discipline. The report can be downloaded from the Howard League website.


Rob Preece
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