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18 Jul 2023

Howard League responds to Cookham Wood prison inspection report

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Cookham Wood prison in Kent, published today (Tuesday 18 July 2023).

Inspectors visited Cookham Wood, which holds boys aged 15 to 18, in April 2023 and found a prison where violence was rife, solitary confinement had become normalised and standards were deteriorating significantly. Conditions were so appalling that the inspectorate issued an Urgent Notification, giving the Secretary of State for Justice 28 days to respond with an action plan for improvement.

More than 200 weapons had been discovered in the months leading to the inspection, and almost a quarter of the boys told inspectors that they felt unsafe. Ninety per cent of the boys were subject to ‘keep apart’ orders, which prevented the successful provision of a meaningful regime.

Inspectors found two boys who had been held in conditions amounting to solitary confinement for more than 100 days.

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is a damning report that sets out in shocking detail why prison is no place for a child. How can boys hope to thrive in an environment where conditions are filthy, equipment is broken, education is virtually non-existent, staff are demoralised and violence is rife?

“Worst of all in this long litany of failures is the normalisation of solitary confinement, to the point where many children are spending 23-and-a-half hours each day locked inside their cells. This is particularly concerning in a prison where more than half the boys are on remand, awaiting trial or sentence, and we know from the Howard League advice line that there are children in other prisons being held in similar conditions.

“The Howard League has warned for many years that Cookham Wood is unsafe and totally unfit for children. This is the latest in a long line of devastating reports, and probably the worst yet. In a jail without hope, it seems that even the staff have given up. What more evidence do ministers require to close this prison and ensure that boys are given the attention, care and support they need?”

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. The inspection report for Cookham Wood prison is available on the His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons website at:
  3. A Howard League blogpost on Cookham Wood, published in May 2023, can be found at:



Noor Khan

Press and Public Affairs Officer

Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7873


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