In its recently published annual report for 2016-17, the Independent Monitoring Board for Cookham Wood Young Offenders’ Institution (YOI) says that staff shortages have led to boys spending “far too much time in their cells”, and that frequent, unpredictable restrictions on their activities are “inhumane”.
Cookham Wood YOI, near Rochester, holds up to 188 boys aged 15 to 18, from all over southern England.
For the last year it has been operating with up to 20% fewer prison officers than authorised and recommended. Because of this, there have been regular but unpredictable restrictions of the boys’ activities, for safety reasons.
At the worst point, in June, a typical boy at Cookham Wood had only 5 hours out of his cell on weekdays, and only 2 hours a day at weekends. There were regular education “shutdowns”, restrictions on “association time”, and many boys missed appointments because officers could not be freed to accompany them.
At the same time, there was a high level of violence: 14 assaults on staff in June. The Board argues that frustrations at the restrictions fuelled violence.
The Chair said: “It is hugely frustrating, there are so many good things about Cookham Wood. The staff are caring and fair. Education and Healthcare are excellent and there are many counsellors and trainers to help the boys turn their lives around. There are simply not enough officers to give the boys the access they need to what is on offer”.
The Ministry of Justice has authorised a vigorous campaign to recruit more officers for Cookham Wood.
Read the report in full here.