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9 Jan 2018

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 9 January).

Inspectors visited Cookham Wood, which holds boys aged 15 to 18, in August last year. They found that the prison had become less safe and more violent since the previous inspection, which was conducted in 2016.

The prison told the inspectorate that, on average, boys spent about 19-and-a-half hours a day locked inside their cells. Inspectors said that a significant number of boys were locked up for even longer.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “No child is safe in Cookham Wood prison. Violence is rife. Staff are resorting to draconian punishments. It is shocking that boys as young as 15 are being held in such conditions.

“I visited the prison myself less than two weeks ago, and I was very disappointed to find boys were being locked up all day. Unsurprisingly, the inspectors found the same – teenagers with nothing to do, staring at bare walls for days on end.

“When I visited, the quality of the food was awful. Children were being given a very impoverished diet, so they were supplementing it by buying sweets and biscuits.

“This is a prison regime that lacks affection and kindness and imagination and skill. It is damaging children.”

The Howard League legal team runs a free and confidential legal advice line for children and young people in custody. The charity has received more than 100 enquiries in the last year either from or on behalf of children in Cookham Wood.

They include the case of a 15-year-old boy with significant mental health problems, who was locked in his cell all day on Christmas Day and was allowed only one exercise session between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.

The legal team has been made aware of children being unable to get clean clothes. A significant number of children have been held in conditions of solitary confinement, denied access to education and gym.

Howard League research has found that more than 1,000 days of additional imprisonment were imposed on children in Cookham Wood following disciplinary hearings, known as adjudications, in 2016 – a 35 per cent rise from the previous year.

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 prison inspection report will be available from Tuesday 9 January on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.
  1. More information about the Howard League’s legal work can be found on the charity’s website.
  1. The imposition of additional days of imprisonment is the focus of a Howard League report, Out of control: punishment in prison.


Rob Preece
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