Ministry of Justice
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Young offender’s institution to be repurposed

Young offenders from HMYOI Cookham Wood will be transferred and the site repurposed as an adult prison under plans announced by the Ministry of Justice today (21 March 2024).

  • HMYOI Cookham Wood will become an adult prison to boost capacity
  • young offenders will be moved to alternative accommodation
  • new Secure School to open on neighbouring site within the coming months

In a bid to boost to prison capacity the establishment will operate as an adult male prison as early as the summer, while options are being reviewed for its longer-term use.

Young offenders currently housed at Cookham Wood will be moved to other sites across the secure youth estate to provide the continued support needed for them to turn their backs on crime for good.

They will be moved on a case-by-case basis, taking into account their specific needs, views from other professionals and the need to maintain family ties. These transfers will be done in a supervised manner, in consultation with families and youth offending teams.

New locations include a Secure School which will open on an adjacent site this spring, the first of its nature delivering a ground-breaking new approach to youth custody that will place education and wellbeing at its heart.

Prisons and Youth Justice Minister Edward Argar said:

We are transforming the provision of custody for young offenders and over the last decade we have seen a significant fall in young people entering custody.

Those housed within our youth estate often have very complex needs and have committed violent crime, and Cookham Wood is no longer serving their needs.

This is why we are announcing plans to move them to sites to offer better support and help turn their backs on a life of crime as well as increase capacity within our adult male estate.

In April last year, HMYOI Cookham Wood was issued an Urgent Notification by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons over concerns around the standard of care being provided to young offenders with complex needs.

The Youth Custody Service has been closely monitoring the progress made against an Action Plan published last May, with significant improvements delivered in the quality of education and safety with additional national resources being provided. 

But it has become clear the further improvements needed cannot be delivered at the scale required in an acceptable time frame.

Over the last decade, the number of children in custody has fallen by nearly 70% -this has created the challenge that those left in custody have largely committed violent offences and are some of the most complex and vulnerable children in the justice system, who require extensive support.

This reduction means there is ample capacity for the young offenders currently housed in Cookham Wood to be placed elsewhere in the youth secure estate.

The decisive action comes amid ongoing plans to transform the provision of custody for young offenders. This includes a series of reforms to improve the youth estate, including recruiting a specialist youth justice workforce and working in close partnership with health and education providers to maximise our work to reduce reoffending.

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