Bullying 'rife' at young offenders institution

Inmates at a young offenders' institution hid in their cells and refused to come out, even to eat, because they feared for their safety, an official report has found.

Bullying at Cookham Wood in Rochester, Kent, was "rife" and relationships between staff and inmates were "tense", prison inspectors found. They blamed bosses for taking on too many young criminals before the facility was ready, following its conversion. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Anne Owers, called for a cap on the number of youngsters housed there until the problems were fixed. The inspectors uncovered "high" levels of force used by staff, mostly to stop fights between inmates, who are aged 15 to 18.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said the report raised "serious questions". Phil Wheatley, director general of the National Offender Management Service, said "significant improvements" had been made since the inspection.