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In response to the decision by the Youth Custody Service (YCS) and the Ministry of Justice today to close down HMYOI Cookham Wood. Children’s Commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza said:

I welcome today’s decision by the Youth Custody Service (YCS) and the Ministry of Justice today to close down HMYOI Cookham Wood.

I have been calling for all young offender institutions to be closed as a matter of urgency.

As Children’s Commissioner, I have repeatedly expressed my deep concerns about the shocking level of violence and poor conditions at Cookham Wood, in the wake of HMIP’s Urgent Notification last year and as part of my Independent Family Review in 2022.

The setting has failed on every single of the four test areas, including safety, on every inspection going back to 2019, so robust action is welcome but overdue.

During my last visit there, children told my team that the setting was categorically not safe.

They spoke about their experiences of violence, including stabbings, and their lack of confidence they could be kept safe by those in charge. One said: “Everybody is carrying weapons.” Another boy said: “Cookham is the worst YOI.”

I was also deeply concerned about Cookham Wood not meeting children’s statutory right to time out of their rooms.

For the children currently living in Cookham Wood there may be a complicated transition in the short-term but I will be making it a priority for my office to ensure that these young people end up in far better accommodation in a more appropriate, supportive setting.

My Help at Hand service for children in care or living away from home, is available to offer advice and assistance.

A key test for the YCS, and their children’s social care and youth justice service partners, will be ensuring replacement accommodation in safe settings that can provide appropriate care and are close to their families.

The closure of Cookham Wood is a welcome step in achieving the Ministry of Justice’s commitment to close all young offender institutions. Progress to achieve this has been too slow and this has left too many children in settings that are not safe and not appropriate.

Only two weeks ago shocking findings came out of HMYOI Wetherby but there has not been a single YOI in England that was not failing on at least one of the inspection test areas since 2019. I look forward to the opening of the first Secure School, Oasis Restore, later this year.

As part of The Big Ambition, which will be published next week, I heard from many children living in secure settings on how they want the next government could make their lives better:

“Give more time out of cell. 23-hour bang up is turning me crazy.” – Young person, living in Cookham Wood.

“Instead of investing so much money into keeping guys in prison invest that money into them before they end up in prison. It cost u 50 to 60 grand for me to be here a year imagine if you invested that into my education and activities. I wouldn’t be here.” – Young person, living in Cookham Wood.

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