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18 Feb 2020

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 18 February).

Inspectors visited the prison, which holds up to 188 boys aged 15 to 18, in September last year. They found it to be insufficiently good in all four of the inspectorate’s ‘healthy prison’ tests – care, safety, purposeful activity and resettlement.

Increasing use of force, staff shortages, poor living conditions, restricted access to exercise and education, and high levels of violence are among the problems highlighted in the report.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “When a child is in trouble with the law, we should do all we can to guide them away from crime and give them a brighter future.

“Yet again, this is not happening in Cookham Wood, where boys are spending days on end locked in their cells without fresh air and education. Operational chaos and incompetence are no excuse for failing to give children the basic things they need.

“It is time to work positively for a solution that stops children being hurt and helps them to realise their potential. It starts with keeping them out of prison and giving them the care and support they deserve.”

Case studies

In the last 12 months the Howard League has received more than 90 calls from or on behalf of boys in Cookham Wood prison. The issues raised most often were resettlement, adjudications, and treatment and conditions.

Here are some of the cases to which the Howard League legal team has been alerted:

A boy with learning difficulties and mental health issues was held in segregation for 76 days.

An autistic boy complained that he had been restrained for not doing as he was told and was injured. This happened several times, and a number of safeguarding referrals were made.

A 15-year-old boy said that he had been locked in his cell all day for several days in a row because education classes had been cancelled frequently.

A 17-year-old boy was tried by the prison governor and fined for damaging his cell by starting a fire, even though this was an act of self-harm and the rules say children should not be punished for self-harm. The Howard League appealed the decision.  After almost five months, and after the child was released, the Ministry of Justice responded by upholding the decision – without dealing with concerns about him being punished for self-harm.

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.
  2. A copy of the inspection report on Cookham Wood prison will be available from Tuesday 18 February on the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons website:


Rob Preece
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