Category: Cookham Wood YOI

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.


Inquest into death of 16 year-old Daniel Adewole starts today

The inquest into the death of Daniel Adewole starts today in Maidstone, Kent.

Daniel, aged 16, died in Cookham Wood child prison on 4 July 2015. He was the 34th child to die in prison custody since 1990, the year the UK signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that children be only ever detained as a measure of last resort.

At the time of Daniel’s death, the Youth Justice Board stated it was not aware of any suspicious circumstances.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, says:

“We should all be suspicious of children dying alone in prison cells, miles away from their families and communities.

“It is shameful that we continue to lock up children in prisons designed to make adults suffer, and incomprehensible that this area of policy has been trapped in a time-warp for so long. Just last week the European anti-torture committee said the use of solitary confinement in Cookham Wood and other child prisons amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment.

“While this inquest is foremost about justice for Daniel Adewole and his family, we have to hope it will help bring about intelligent and humane change for all children.”

Another child dies in prison

Article 39 is deeply saddened to hear that another child has died in prison.

The Youth Justice Board, which allocates children to prison places, reported the death yesterday. The boy was found in his cell at Cookham Wood young offender institution early Saturday morning. The Board’s statement says there is presently “no indication” the child died in suspicious circumstances or took his own life. An inquest will be held in due course.

Whatever the cause of this child’s death, there is no escaping the awful truth that he died alone in a prison cell.

Since 1990, the year the UK made a legal undertaking with the United Nations to only ever detain a child as a measure of last resort, 34 children have died in custody.

This latest death occurred just a few days after the publication of the report and recommendations of the Harris Review into the deaths of 83 young adults and 4 children in custody between April 2007 and December 2014.

The last inspection report into Cookham Wood young offender institution, published in October 2014, referred to “debilitating staff shortages”, children being strip-searched “under restraint” and “awful” conditions in the ‘constant watch cell’ in the prison’s segregation unit.