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Media Release: Damning report into WA’s “cruel” juvenile justice centre highlights urgent need for reform

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 20 April 2022

The Justice Reform Initiative has called on the Western Australian government to commit to funding genuine alternatives to incarceration, following a damning assessment of the state’s juvenile detention centre, which has been lashed for its “cruel”, “inhuman” and “degrading” treatment of detainees.

In a report tabled in the WA Parliament on Tuesday, the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services revealed that many children held at Banksia Hill Detention Centre faced extensive periods of isolation in small cells, which were often in a poor state, in breach of their human rights.

Justice Reform Initiative executive director Mindy Sotiri said the findings of the report were disturbing but sadly no surprise given long-held concerns about Banksia Hill.

Dr Sotiri said the government had no choice but to act.

“As Inspector Eamon Ryan said himself, this facility is ‘not fit for purpose’,” she said.

“Children as young as 10, many of whom haven't been sentenced, are being locked up in circumstances that deprive them of the care, support, social interaction, and access to opportunity, that every single child requires to thrive.”

“I have no doubt that in the future, we as a community, will look back at the way Australia imprisons children at places like Banksia Hill and be absolutely horrified.”

The out-of-cycle inspection, which was carried out in December, was prompted by increasing concerns about the welfare of detainees and staff in the wake of a rising number of critical incidents, including detainee self-harm, suicide attempts, and staff assaults.

“Due to staffing shortages, detainees are often locked into their cells for most of the day, preventing meaningful social interaction with peers and staff,” the report said.

“This typically leads detainees to act out and increasingly there are more detainees self-harming.”

Following the inspection, the Department of Justice was issued with a “show cause” notice advising that detainees in the facility’s Intensive Support Unit were “being subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.

Dr Sotiri said the imprisonment of children at Banksia Hill both entrenched and compounded disadvantage and increased the likelihood of future criminal justice system involvement.

She said an overwhelming mass of international evidence showed the political reliance on imprisonment, especially for children, had been both a policy failure and a human rights disaster.

“Jailing is Failing. It doesn't deter. It doesn't rehabilitate. It leads to higher rates of recidivism,” Dr Sotiri said.

“It is enormously expensive and it doesn't work in any way to build safer communities. Spending $25 million on refurbishing Banksia Hill will not address the fundamental failure of incarceration for children.

“We need to address the drivers of incarceration, and we need to address the damaging impact of imprisonment on children. If anything positive is to come out of this damning report, it should be an acknowledgement by the WA government that we need to genuinely invest in alternatives.”

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The Initiative respectfully acknowledges and supports the current and longstanding efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to reduce the numbers of Indigenous people incarcerated in Australia and, importantly, the leadership role which Indigenous-led organisations continue to play on this issue. We also acknowledge the work of many other individuals and organisations seeking change, such as those focused on the rate of imprisonment for women, people with mental health issues, people with disability and others.

Media contact: Pia Akerman 0412 346 746

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