Children’s Court President Hylton Quail spares teen detention over shocking treatment at Banksia Hill
The President of the Children’s Court has taken the extraordinary step of sparing a teenager – who he described as “without a doubt the most difficult detainee at Banksia Hill” – further detention saying he was better off in the community than at the facility because of the “dehumanising” treatment.
During the 15-year-old’s sentencing, Hylton Quail revealed the teenager, who has been diagnosed with FASD, ADHD, PTSD and anxiety disorder, had spent 79 days out of 98 in the intensive supervision unit – otherwise known as solitary – living in what he described as a “fish bowl”.
More alarmingly, he said, was the discovery the boy spent 33 days completely locked up in his cell with no access to the 10m x 20m brick “cage” for exercise.
And on 34 other days he was allowed outside, he only received an average of an hour of exercise. He had no access to education and was only allowed roughly 10 minutes a day to call loved ones, when the phone was working.
“When you treat a damaged child like an animal, they will behave like one,” Judge Quail said of the teen’s behaviour. “And if you want to make a monster, then this is how you do it.”
Judge Quail revealed he had ordered a report into the teen’s management at the detention centre after learning he had spat, bit and threw urine over 19 youth custodial officers and self-harmed multiple times since his arrest in November last year.
He said he wanted to see if there was a link between his behaviour and his treatment at Banksia Hill.
And what he found, he said, was that the teen’s detention did not “meet the bare minimum standard the court expects” saying the child was subjected to “prolonged systematic dehumanisation and deprivation”.
The court was told the teen, who was taken into State care when he was eight, was sent back to detention after breaching a previous community order for breaking into a home in Ballajura and for robbing an 82-year-old man of $2000 with an adult co-accused in Morley in August.
He had only been out of Banksia Hill for five days when he committed the first burglary.
While inside he attacked 18 male officers by either spitting, biting or throwing urine over them. He also pushed one female officer.
The court was told a psychologist who spoke with the teen after each self-harm attempt revealed his aggressive behaviour and suicide attempts were his way of trying to get his basic needs met and a desire for interaction with staff even if it was negative.
Judge Quail said the psychologist also pointed out the teen was always polite and reasonable when dealing with her but tended to lash out because of his lack of stimulation while confined.
He also highlighted there were no confinement orders relating to the teen saying Banksia Hill only had a management plan for him. If the teen had been placed on a confinement order he would have been given one hour of exercise every six hours every day.
“For 33 days, he did not have any exercise,” he said. “His conditions under the plan was worse than if a confinement order was made.”
The court also heard that over the Christmas period 25 detainees were locked up in the ISU and that staff shortages were so bad, rolling lockdowns were implemented meaning the children were not allowed out of their cells for numerous days.
In this teen’s case, he remained locked up from Christmas Eve until December 29.
Judge Quail said he had no criticism of the youth custodial officers or the superintendents who ran the facility saying he recognised the teen was very challenging and the wider issues were out of their control.
But he did lay blame squarely at the government saying it was their responsibility to adequately staff, train, resource and replace inadequate infrastructure at Banksia Hill.
The court also heard since the report was ordered, efforts had been made by the Department of Justice to improve the cells in the ISU, however “much more is required”. More prison officers were also expected to be brought in by the end of April.
In sentencing the teen, Judge Quail said ordinarily someone charged with multiple counts of assault a public officer and aggravated burglary would face a lengthy sentence.
But he said he took into account all the factors including the “dehumanisation” the teen was subjected to while locked up in the ISU.
“The rules are simple. Don’t break into people’s house and don’t hurt people,” he told the boy.
He sentenced him to 12 months detention but ordered he serve the time in the community saying he was of less risk outside Banksia Hill.
Megan Krakouer from the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project said she was “absolutely disgusted” by the teen’s treatment but not surprised saying it was not an isolated incident.
She also said she would go as far as saying the McGowan Government should be taken to the international criminal court in the Hague over its neglect of children in juvenile detention.
She said the government has known about the effect staff shortages were having on conditions at the centre explaining rolling lockdowns were having a detrimental effect on the kids inside.
“It is inhuman treatment,” she said.
Ms Krakouer called on Premier Mark McGowan to apologise to the children who are or have been detained at Banksia Hill and also called for Corrective Services Minister Bill Johnston to resign claiming he has known about the issues since at least October but has failed to address them adequately.
When asked about the judges comments, Mr McGowan acknowledged there were issues but said there were no “easy answers” adding the public also had to be protected.
“Banksia Hill actually has in place a whole lot of different rehabilitation programs for children that are there to try get kids back on the right track,” he said.
“But there are no easy answers here. Banksia Hill is not full. It is used as a last resort for the most serious of cases.”