Independent board says child prison “inhumane”

The Independent Monitoring Board for Cookham Wood juvenile young offender institution says conditions there are “inhumane”.

Reflecting on 312 visits made to the prison between August 2016 and July 2017, the Board’s annual report states:

“Keeping boys with very severe mental health difficulties at Cookham Wood is inhumane: they cannot be properly supported here with insufficient appropriate specialist healthcare staffing.”

Four boys desperately required mental health care outside the prison but remained incarcerated because there was no specialist provision for them elsewhere. The Board described this as “unacceptable and highly distressing for the boys and staff involved”. One of the boys was admitted to Cookham Wood in December 2016 and wasn’t transferred to hospital until June the following year, “despite constant pleas by the [prison’s] mental health team”. The Board explains:

“From early February to late May he lived segregated in the Phoenix Unit, much of the time in its constant watch cell. He was shown kindness and sensitivity there, but his situation was heart-breaking.”

The Phoenix Unit offers a “very poor physical environment and limited facilities”, the Board complains. From March this year, children have been regularly locked in their cells for half the day, with visitors forced to talk to them “through their doors, which was neither humane nor confidential”.

The Board analysed the time spent by boys out of their cells over a one month period. They found the average was just 4-5 hours during the week and 2 hours at weekends. This was largely due to insufficient staffing. The effects were damaging for both children and staff:

“Boys tell the IMB that it is the unpredictability of their regime which they find particularly upsetting. They do not blame the officers. Indeed, the IMB finds that day-to-day relationships between officers and boys are good, which is strong testimony both to the professionalism and sensitivity of the officers and the patience and understanding of the boys. But many boys say that repeated regime restrictions make them angry and upset. In some boys, anger can lead to violence, and to officers being injured, which in turn exacerbates the staff shortage.”

There is no overnight healthcare support in the prison, which holds around 140 boys.

On 4 July 2015, 16 year-old Daniel Adewole was found on the floor of his cell in Cookham Wood. Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy was the cause of death. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman repeated recommendations he had made following the death of Alex Kelly, nearly three years before.

Fifteen year-old Alex Kelly was found hanging in his cell in Cookham Wood on 24 January 2012. He died the following day. Alex had been in care from the age of six years.

Read the full Independent Monitoring Board report here.