Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 3 October 2023
The Western Australian government must take urgent action to address the crisis at Banksia Hill – following fresh condemnation by the Disability Royal Commission of the harmful and unacceptable treatment of children there – and ensure strong leadership is in place to direct long-overdue changes.
In its report last week, The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disabilityidentified the inhuman, cruel, and degrading treatment of children with disabilities at Banksia Hill – including the ongoing use of solitary confinement for 22 hours or more per day – and recommended an immediate shift to a “therapeutic, trauma-informed and culturally competent” approach.
Justice Reform Initiative executive director Dr Mindy Sotiri said the Government’s failure in the same week to renew Tim Marney's contract, six months after tasking him with implementing a new therapeutic model of care, was a worrying sign that the Government was no longer taking reform at Banksia Hill seriously.
“The Royal Commission’s findings reaffirm what we know is an incredibly distressing situation for children with disabilities, who are over-represented in Banksia Hill and subjected to cruel solitary confinement and rolling lockdowns,” Dr Sotiri said.
“The unacceptable treatment of children remains as urgent today as it was six months ago when Tim Marney was appointed. It is as urgent as it was one year ago when Banksia Hill was declared ‘no longer fit for purpose’, and for the 10 years that it has been condemned in multiple settings, including by the WA Inspector of Custodial Services.
“How does the Government intend to address this failing system if they do not have someone on the ground implementing much-needed change?
“The Government needs to show they remain committed to a new model of care at Banksia Hill. The evidence clearly shows that this is a system in crisis, failing to meet the needs of the children imprisoned or the staff who work there.”
On an average day in 2021-22 there were 105 children in detention in Western Australia, contributing to a total 759 unique children incarcerated in the state over that same period – 76% of this population were First Nations children.
The Royal Commission’s report highlighted the “severe, long-term and irreversible effects on a child’s health and wellbeing” caused by solitary confinement in Banksia Hill, which are exacerbated among children who have cognitive impairment and brain injuries. These practices were, in the view of the Royal Commission, a result of the failure of the Department of Justice of Western Australia over many years to adequately staff Banksia Hill.
Dr Sotiri welcomed the report’s recommendations, including that the Department “immediately review its youth justice staffing and recruitment model” and implement a therapeutic and trauma-informed operating philosophy and service model, developed in conjunction with people with disability and First Nations people.
“The report highlights the importance of measures such as cultural support and suitably trained staff to work with children with complex needs and address the significant disadvantages they experience,” Dr Sotiri said.
“However, there is much more that needs to be done to ensure that children with significant disabilities are not imprisoned in the first place. We need to build access to specialist disability supports and services in the community. The evidence very clearly shows that when children are imprisoned, they do not receive adequate support, they do not receive fair treatment, and as a consequence, they are at increased risk of ongoing justice system involvement.”
For more information visit https://www.justicereforminitiative.org.au/.
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.