Kent

Inspectors discover weapon use at Cookham Wood Prison

HMP Cookham Wood Image copyright bbc
Image caption Inspectors warn violence at the jail is "high and rising"

A "significant" use of weapons by inmates of a prison for teenage boys has been discovered by inspectors.

Some 35 weapons were found in a search at Cookham Wood, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) said.

In the six months before the inspection, 169 acts of violence were recorded, compared to 130 at the previous inspection.

The National Offender Management Service said staff were getting extra training.

Some 103 acts of violence were recorded as assaults and 66 as fights between boys.

Inspectors warned violence at the young offenders institution, near Rochester in Kent, was "high and rising".

Head stamping

Cookham Wood, which holds sentenced and remanded boys aged from 15 to 18, was operating on a restricted regime at the time of inspection due to staff shortages.

Inspectors watched more than a dozen videos of incidents which revealed the use of weapons, attacks on individuals by multiple assailants and "reckless" behaviour by boys, including kicking and head stamping.

Serious injuries following fights and assaults were not uncommon, the inspectors said.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said it was "a new low".

"Cuts have pushed the prison system to breaking point", she said.

'Future success'

Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said: "We inspected Cookham Wood at a tough and challenging time.

"A new governor had recently been appointed and there had been significant loss of staff, not all of whom had been replaced."

Mr Hardwick said there was evidence of improvement since the inspection and "every reason for optimism".

"However, risks remain and the need to recruit suitable new staff is fundamental to the future success of the prison," he said.

Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service, said: "The governor is actively tackling violence within the prison.

"Staff are being provided with additional training in behaviour management and all serious incidents are being referred to the police."

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