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Media Release: Therapeutic program a welcome step forward for youth justice in WA

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 25 May 2023

The Justice Reform Initiative today welcomed the Western Australian Government’s plans to pilot a therapeutic diversionary program run out of the children’s court that would function as an alternative to incarceration.

Following another riot at the facility this month, Attorney-General John Quigley on Wednesday unveiled new plans that would see some children diverted from Banksia Hill by placing them in a pilot therapeutic program within the court.

Revealed in estimates on Wednesday and set to be launched soon, the program would be run by the Children’s Court and co-designed by former mental health commissioner Tim Marney.

The Justice Reform Initiative’s Executive Director Dr Mindy Sotiri said implementing a therapeutic approach at the point of court was a small step forward in the critical need to divert young people away from Banksia Hill Youth Detention Centre and looked forward to learning more about the pilot program.

“This is clear recognition of the overdue need for significant change in addressing the over-use of harmful incarceration of children at Banksia, and the strong body of evidence that shows the current punitive approach to youth justice is failing,” Dr Sotiri said.

“Therapeutic programs within the Children’s Court are an example of an evidence-based program that will divert children away from detention.

“In-court diversionary programs have proven incredibly successful in reducing reoffending, increasing health and well-being and addressing the drivers of incarceration.

“But there is still much more to be done to address the failings of Banksia Hill, which is indicative of a system in crisis.”

Western Australia has the second highest incarceration rate in the country. 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. 

Dr Sotiri urged the WA Government to follow the example of the Tasmanian Liberal Government, which has committed to shutting down Ashley Youth Detention Centre by 2024, following years of ill-treatment and harm of the children incarcerated there. The Tasmanian Government will replace Ashley with  two small purpose-built therapeutic facilities.

“When children do not receive adequate support, and are not treated fairly while imprisoned, they are much more likely to reoffend on release and behave as we saw recently in disturbances at both Banksia Hill and Casuarina Unit 18,” Dr Sotiri said.

“The evidence clearly outlines that if we want to provide children with the opportunities required to address the drivers of contact with the justice system then we need to invest in both trauma-informed models of care, and invest outside of prison environments.”

The Justice Reform Initiative is a multi-partisan alliance supported by more than 120 of our most eminent Australians, including two former Governors-General, former Members of Parliament from all sides of politics, academics, respected Aboriginal leaders, senior former judges, including High Court judges, and others who have added their voices to end Australia’s dangerously high reliance on jails. 

The Initiative is calling for governments around Australia to move away from an entrenched reliance on incarceration as the mainstay of the criminal justice system and adopt an evidence-based approach to deliver better results for taxpayers, communities and people in the criminal justice system.

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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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