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18 Apr 2019

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 (Thursday 18 April). The prison holds boys aged 15 to 18.

Inspectors visited the Cookham Wood, near Rochester in Kent, in December last year and found that, while the prison had improved, it remained insufficiently good in the key areas of safety, purposeful activity and resettlement.

There was a culture of fighting in the prison, and a quarter of the boys were found to be locked in their cells during the day. Two-thirds of the boys said that they had been physically restrained in the prison.

The Howard League legal team runs a free and confidential legal advice line for children and young people in custody. The charity has received almost 60 calls in the last year either from or on behalf of children in Cookham Wood.

The most common concerns raised in calls to the Howard League have been in relation to adjudications, segregation and treatment and conditions.

Problems dealt with by the legal team have included the case of a child who had been trying for three months to get telephone access so that he could call his mother.

One call concerned an 18-year-old in segregation who had been repeatedly refused education for being rude. In another case, a mother had been banned from visiting her son in the prison following a disagreement with staff.

The Howard League also received a call from a professional about a boy who could not speak English. He had been in Cookham Wood for a couple of weeks, but he was unable to communicate with anyone as a translator had not been brought in.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “No prison is safe for a child, and it is shameful that boys as young as 15 are still being locked up in Cookham Wood, where a ‘culture of fighting’ has become the norm.

“What children need is a culture of care – something that a prison cannot provide, no matter how well-led it might be. Everyone knows this, so why are children still being sent there?”

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 will be available from Thursday 18 April on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.


Rob Preece
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