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Media Release: New Youth Prison Won't Solve WA's Youth Justice Crisis

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 30 November 2023

The announcement of the development of a business case for a new facility to replace Unit 18 should not deflect attention from the ongoing harm caused to incarcerated children in WA, or more broadly, the deep-rooted failure of Western Australia’s youth justice system.

Justice Reform Initiative executive director Dr Mindy Sotiri today urged the WA government to closely consider the evidence on effective intervention strategies for children and young people, before committing to building a new maximum security youth prison next to Banksia Hill.

“A new building is not the same as a new approach,” she said. “The problems at Banksia Hill have been clear for decades, and the pledge for a new maximum security facility next door does not address the over-use of harmful incarceration of children at Banksia, nor the strong body of evidence that shows the current punitive approach to youth justice is failing.

“Children, families and communities in Western Australia need real and sustainable reform, based on the evidence of what actually works to turn lives around and address the drivers of behaviour that bring children into contact with the criminal justice system.

“Locking children up, whether on remand or in detention, only entrenches the issues which have brought them to that point. It doesn’t solve them. If the Government is committed to developing a business case for a new prison, at the very least, they should also commit to the development of an alternative business case which prioritises investment in evidence-based community led alternatives.

“Research overwhelmingly shows that the solutions to reducing incarceration, and the cycle of disadvantage and imprisonment, are not based on building new 'purpose built' facilities. Investing in proven community-led supports and programs that address the drivers of incarceration deliver far better results for individuals, their communities and taxpayers.

“The vast majority of children who come into contact with the justice system have experienced disadvantage and challenges which none of us would want for our kids. We cannot use these children for political point scoring.

“A smarter evidence-based approach to justice requires cross-party support and action. No government can fix this problem on their own, and we urge the Government to undertake meaningful consultation on the best way forward.

“Western Australians need their policymakers to take the politics out of prisons and follow the evidence for an approach to criminal justice that actually works.”

Media contact: Pia Akerman 0412 346 746

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.

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