Report on an unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMYOI Cookham Wood, 4 - 8 October 2010 by HMCIP. Report compiled January 2011, published Tuesday 22nd March 2011
"Ministers should be in no doubt that although Cookham Wood may be off the critical list, it should remain in intensive care"
Specific concerns included:
- improvements in safety and respect were fragile and progress on resettlement had stalled.
- the Phoenix unit, set up to manage the most difficult young people, was not operating as intended;
- there had been three serious assaults on staff prior to the inspection and two further serious incidents after the inspection;
- there was an over-reliance on formal disciplinary procedures, including a high number of governor's adjudications;
- bullying remained a significant problem; - a third of young people reported victimisation
- 10% of young people said they had been physically assaulted and 20% said they had been subject to verbal intimidation
- the quality of interactions between staff and young people were mixed although it is not surprising that, in view of recent history, some staff were anxious about engaging individually with young people and relied on formal processes;
- the limitations of the buildings themselves placed real constraints on what could be achieved;
- more work was needed to address diversity issues for young people with disabilities, travellers, foreign nationals and on sexuality;
- although resettlement remained a strength, progress had stalled and it relied too much on the efforts of individual staff, while maintaining family relationships requiring urgent attention. A significant number of young people never received any visits.
Cookham Wood YOI is a former women's prison that was re-roled. It admitted its first young male prisoner in May 2008.
At the time of our last inspection in February 2009, Cookham Wood was a frightening and unsafe place. The inspection team found young people hiding in their cells, too frightened to come out. The physical environment was very poor. Broken windows and damaged fittings caused by vandalism added to the poor environment. Despite this, a reasonable start had been made in providing education, training and resettlement activities for the young people.
This follow up inspection found some improvement from this very low base, for which the governor and her staff should be commended. Nevertheless, the improvements in safety and respect were fragile and progress on resettlement had stalled.
At our last inspection, we recommend that the Youth Justice Board (Y JB) immediately reduce the number of young people allocated to Cookham Wood until they were satisfied that a safe and ordered environment had been achieved. The operational capacity was immediately reduced to 80 but has since been gradually increased to the full figure of 143.
The reduction gave the governor some space to bring better order to the establishment. The introduction of the Phoenix unit to manage the most difficult young people was interesting but it was not operating as intended. A much better strategic approach to bullying, tighter controls on movement and a heavy reliance on formal discipline had improved some aspects of safety. However, this only went so far. Four months prior to the inspection there had been three serious assaults on staff. There were two further serious incidents after the inspection. In the period from January to September 2010 there had been 700 governor's adjudications (the most serious disciplinary procedure) for an average population of 130. Although the use of force had reduced significantly since the last inspection and there was good evidence of the successful application of de-escalation techniques, it was still used on 271 occasions in the first six months of 201 O. Bullying remained a significant problem and in our survey a third of young people reported victimisation. The establishment's own bullying survey undertaken in January 2010 suggested that 10% of young people said they had been physically assaulted and 20% said they had been subject to verbal intimidation.
In our view, Cookham Wood, though improved, was still not sufficiently safe. There was now an over reliance on formal disciplinary procedures and our survey suggested a growing proportion of young people did not feel that these were applied fairly. At the same time, the quality of interactions between staff and young people were mixed; we saw some that were excellent and some that were poor. It is not surprising that, in view of the establishment's recent history, some staff were unwilling or anxious about engaging individually with young people and relied on formal processes, despite good and visible management support at critical times. Some of what we saw suggested staff willingness but inexperience: bad language by young people, for instance, went unchallenged and on some occasions we witnessed staff using the same language; behaviour in education was poor. The personal officer scheme was not functioning in any meaningful way. What Cookham Wood needed above all was support in developing a stable, experienced and confident staff group who had the skills and desire to work with some very challenging young people - and achieving this was made much more difficult by the recruitment controls that were in place at the time. The issue was not overall staff numbers (although this needs to be kept under review) but the reliance on short-term appointments due to the delays in recruiting permanent staff. I have asked NOMS and the Y JB to address this as a matter of urgency.
The physical environment had improved since our last inspection - from appalling to merely scruffy. Maintenance had improved but the limitations of the buildings themselves placed real constraints on what could be achieved. The environment was characterised by a constant background of unanswered call bells and shouting from cells; in some cases, young people's lack of confidence in the call bell system resulted in persistent overuse, but we also found examples of young people who had not received their meals but who did not use the call bell to alert staff for fear of getting into trouble. Health care was a good service and there had been real improvements in the care of young people with mental health problems. There was very good work on race and young people from black and minority ethnic communities reported positively on how this was dealt with. However, other diversity issues were not effectively addressed. The establishment had a significant number of young travellers and more needed to be done to understand their needs. Work with foreign national young people, young people with disabilities (who reported disturbingly high levels of bullying) and on sexuality was underdeveloped.
Time out of cell ranged from about three to 10 hours a day with an average of about 8.5 hours. Poor behaviour in education limited what could be achieved. However, the vocational training workshops were a success, characterised by good relationships, a positive working environment and real learning. The murals workshop was outstanding - not just for the quality of work and learning that was produced but for its successful work with some of the most challenging young people. Art in prison is sometimes seen as a soft touch - this workshop was a striking example of its value. The PE department - despite limited resources - did good and valuable work.
Resettlement remained a strength of the establishment, but we were concerned it relied too much on the efforts of individual staff and was not underpinned by a clear strategy or sufficient management support. Progress overall had stalled. An area that needed urgent attention was support for young people in maintaining family relationships. In a sample of 65 young people, there were 20 who never received any visits and the establishment estimated that, despite an invitation to do so, families only attended about half of all young people's reviews. Facilities for visitors need to improve. The requirement for young people receiving visits to wear bibs worn by the netball team when Cookham Wood was a women's prison should stop.
The YJB, NOMS and ministers should be in no doubt that although Cookham Wood may be off the critical list, it should remain in intensive care and needs intelligent support if that progress is to be sustained. The establishment is safer than it was when we carried out our last inspection, but staff and management need support and stability to build on that to deliver consistently effective relationships with young people. The safety of the prison will depend on these relationships, and they are the key ingredient in helping the young people move to law¬abiding and useful adult lives.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons