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Closure of failing young offender institution Cookham Wood creates uncertainty for staff and children

STAFF and children at a failing young offenders’ institution have been left “in limbo” following a decision to close the facility, prison inspectors said yesterday.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announced in April that Cookham Wood in Kent would shut following years of failure to improve conditions for young people.

Cookham Wood is to be turned into an adult prison in a bid to ease overcrowding in Britain’s jails.

But the prison service did not tell staff of the decision until after dozens of new teachers and young offender specialists had been hired, leaving the institution “in limbo,” inspectors said.

HM Prisons Inspectorate gave the ministry just 28 days to make improvements at Cookham Wood after inspectors reported “widespread weapon-making, violence and children held in solitary confinement with very poor access to education.”

But “the population pressures in the adult estate and the failure to make improvements at Cookham Wood” then led to the decision to change its use, the inspectorate said.

“Staff had been told nothing about what they would do after this,” the watchdog said.

Prison Officers Association general secretary Steve Gillan said: “The staff have been treated deplorably and need answers about their future.

“This is no way to treat a dedicated workforce. The employer needs to get a grip of this situation.”

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said: “Cookham Wood has been allowed to fail for years without concerted action to improve the conditions in which children were being held. 

“What is needed is a coherent plan to improve the provision on offer to these children so they can go on to lead crime-free lives when they are released.”

The union’s annual conference begins today in Eastbourne.

A Youth Custody spokesperson said: “This inspection took place following our decisive action to move children from Cookham Wood, but it is testament to the work of staff that the report notes progress in education as well as their care in supporting children and young people to move to new accommodation. This will provide the help they need to turn their backs on crime for good.”

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