Cookham Wood Youth Jail Report

18 April 2019, 10:28

Entrance to Cookham Wood YOI

A report has found teenagers being held at a Kent youth jail feel they have an "obligation" to fight fellow inmates from rival gangs or postcodes,

Inspectors who visited Cookham Wood Young Offender Institution near Rochester, say they found a "culture" has been established in which boys follow "the rules of the game".

At the time it was inspected in December, Cookham Wood held 165 individuals aged 15 to 18.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons said: "Children we spoke to described the 'rules of the game' in relation to fighting: a culture had been established whereby there was an obligation on children to fight with children from a different postcode, gang or wing."

This obligation ceased when an inmate moved onto the "enhanced" wing or the resettlement unit.

"Once there, children were 'allowed' to socialise with the former enemy because they now shared a desire to protect the enhancements and privileges available to them on these units," the report said.

It also raised concerns over graffiti portraying racism, images of knives and gang-related signs which was evident in areas around the YOI.

All forms of violence except fights had increased since the previous inspection.

HMIP assessed Cookham Wood as insufficiently good in safety, purposeful activity and resettlement, but reasonably good in care.

Dr Jo Farrar, chief executive of Her Majesty's Prison & Probation Service, said: "Cookham Wood holds boys with complex needs who have been convicted of serious crimes, so I'm pleased that inspectors have recognised that staff are providing good support and care.

"In these circumstances, it is not unusual for the institution to deal with gang allegiances brought in from the outside, but the Governor and his staff are working hard to manage this.

"The key worker scheme ensures each boy has a mentor and the conflict resolution team has been praised by inspectors for its impressive work changing attitudes and behaviours driven by rivalries between boys.

"The Governor and his team at Cookham Wood are already implementing recommendations made by inspectors to improve the regime and conditions."