Lord of the Flies? Child prisoners stage ‘kangaroo court’ against inmate

© Valentin Flauraud
Prison workers failed to step in when teenage prisoners staged a ‘kangaroo court’ against another inmate, the chief inspector of prisons has revealed in a damning report on young offenders.

Nick Hardwick disclosed that staff at Cookham Wood in Kent watched as young offenders shouted aggressively at one another and even staged a mock trial, and did not intervene until inspectors instructed them to do so. 

A spokesperson for the institution said the mock trial incident involved boys hurling abuse at another offender and “deciding what they were going to do to him the next day.” They eventually decided to “beat him up.

In a new report on the Young Offenders Institution (YOI), Hardwick said prison staff failed to challenge poor behavior “regularly.”

“Some staff challenged intimidating behavior while others did not,” the report said.

“This was particularly evident when we heard boys locked in their cells kicking their doors and shouting threatening abuse at another boy, which went unchallenged by staff.

“We observed aggressive shouting through doors at night, disruption in education, threats to staff and children and unpredictable incidents of serious violence.

“Poor behavior was not addressed consistently by staff in residential units, education or activity, and low-level disruption was allowed to escalate before it was challenged.”

The report added that rowdy behavior was “routine” and often ignored.

“Not all staff challenged bad behavior.

“For example the landings, including the first night landing, were routinely noisy with shouting, swearing, and banging and kicking of cell doors.

“We observed this regularly go unchallenged by staff.”

Hardwick said Cookham Wood was representative of the present problems throughout young offender institutions.

“Cookham Wood reflects the systemic problems we have identified across the YOI estate.

Chief executive of the National Offender Management Service Michael Spurr said new measures had been put in place to improve services at Cookham Wood since the inspection.

“As the inspector noted, Cookham Wood manages an increasingly complex group of boys.

“Since the inspection, staff numbers have increased; a new education contract has been introduced; staff have been trained in new restraint techniques and safeguarding measures have been strengthened, all of which have had a positive impact on safety and behavior.

“Tackling violence and providing a safe environment remains the Governor's biggest challenge and top priority, and work will continue to improve standards even further,” he said.