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Too much violence at Young Offenders' Institution, according to new report

Levels of violence among child criminals are "too high" and need to be tackled as a priority, according to a report.

Inspectors raised concerns about the conditions at Cookham Wood Young Offender Institution in Kent, which holds up to 188 boys aged between 15 and 18. It was branded "not sufficiently good" in all areas of an inspection in September after a deterioration in quality of care since 2018.

Cookham Wood Young Offenders' Institution in Kent holds up to 188 boys aged between 15 and 18 Credit: ITV Meridian

"The number of violent incidents remained too high and the need to keep children apart from each other had a negative impact on their regime.

"Staffing shortages and redeployment of specialist conflict resolution staff to support the regime compounded the problem."

– Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke

Most of the inmates are aged 17 and almost half (45.6% or 78 offenders) are serving time for a primary offence of violence against the person.

The problems were raised as the site was running at "near capacity" with offenders transferred from Feltham A YOI in the wake of there being an "extraordinary" plunge in safety levels at the west London institution, prompting inspectors to call on Justice Secretary Robert Buckland to intervene and tackle the concerns raised.

45.6%
of offenders are serving time for a primary offence of violence against the person
Credit: ITV Meridian

Use of force by staff had increased and was high, according to the report. Just over a quarter of children (28%) were locked in their cell during the school day with access to the gym and library restricted.

Most had just five hours a day during the week and two hours at weekends outside their cells, inspectors added.

Use of force by staff had increased at the Young Offender Institute Credit: ITV Meridian

"This is a disappointing report and I am already taking decisive action to improve conditions for young people at Cookham Wood.

"We are bringing in 54 more prison staff to tackle violence, provide young people with more one-to-one support and make sure they get time out of their cells.

"The prison is also increasing incentives and privileges and twinning with a local football club to boost rehabilitation, while 10 staff have completed training for the new degree-level specialist youth justice role."

– Helga Swidenbank, executive director for Youth Custody Service