Page last updated at 07:46 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 08:46 UK

Young inmates 'fear for safety'

Cookham Wood Young Offenders' Institution
Cookham Wood was converted from a women's prison

Inmates at a young offenders' institution refused to leave their cells - even to eat - through fears for their safety, inspectors have found.

Conditions were "seriously unsafe" at Cookham Wood, in Rochester, Kent, with bullying "rife", a report concluded.

Inspectors said too many inmates had been put there before it was ready after conversion from a women's prison.

Officials at the institution have said "significant improvements" have been made since the inspection took place.

The report showed there was a "tense" relationship between staff and inmates at the facility.

'Serious questions'

It prompted Dame Anne Owers, chief inspector of prisons, to say there should be a cap on the number of inmates until the problems were addressed.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

Dame Anne told BBC Radio 4: "You had a volatile, sometimes vulnerable population, too many staff who were inexperienced and untrained and often didn't want to deal with the population and unsuitable accommodation.

"Put those three things together and you had what we described as a seriously unsafe and poorly controlled environment. "These young people had been put in too quickly without sufficient systems in place and certainly without staff who were confident to be able to operate them."

In their report, inspectors noted: "We came across a number of young people on each unit who remained in their cells... because they said they were being bullied or feared being assaulted or getting into a fight."

Inspections also showed there were high levels of force used by staff to stop inmates, aged 15 to 18, from fighting.

There had also been "inaccurate" recordings of injuries caused when inmates were restrained, the report said.

Paul Carroll, Prison Service South East area manager, said: "Following the inspection, an action plan was immediately put in place to address some of the issues raised.

"I don't wholly accept that the prison was unsafe but I do accept that some boys were challenging in their behaviour.

"The transition from a women's prison to a prison for young people is some of the most challenging work we do."



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SEE ALSO
Jail to become secure youth unit
27 Jul 07 |  Kent
Prison shows 'marked improvement'
22 Nov 05 |  Kent
Jail problems over staff shortage
06 Feb 04 |  Kent

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Morning Star Online Young inmates face brutal conditions - 33 hrs ago
Armley Today Young inmates 'too scared to leave cells' - 38 hrs ago
Crosby Herald Breaking News: Young offenders institute 'unsafe' - 40 hrs ago
IC Scotland Young offenders institute 'unsafe' - 41 hrs ago
KM Extra 'Frightened young prisoners hid in their cells' - 41 hrs ago



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