Perth protesters rally over plan to move Banksia Hill Detention Centre boys to Casuarina Prison
Almost 100 protesters have gathered in Perth’s CBD to voice their anger over plans to transfer 20 boys from the Banksia Hill Detention Centre to an adult prison.
The Department of Justice announced earlier this month that it was relocating a “difficult cohort” of young offenders to a new youth facility within Casuarina Prison after they damaged cells and threatened staff.
WA’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Jacqueline McGowan-Jones, said the plan did not solve the existing problems at Banksia Hill.
“I don’t believe it’s suitable in any way, shape or form to put a young person in an adult maximum security prison,” she told ABC Radio Perth.
“I do think at the moment … that it’s the least worst option, but it cannot be seen to be a long-term solution.”
The relocation comes after Perth Children’s Court president Hylton Quail slammed the “dehumanising” detention of a teenage offender at the facility, saying: “If you want to create a monster, this is how you do it.”
Judge Quail described the cell where the teenager was kept as “a fish bowl” and the yard where he was supposed to be allowed to exercise as a “10 x 20 metre cage”.
In April, a report by WA’s prisons watchdog uncovered “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of detainees during a snap inspection of the facility.
The Inspector for Custodial Services said concerns were sparked after rising incidents of self-harm, suicide attempts and assaults on staff.
‘Human rights violation’: protest organiser
Protest organiser Megan Krakouer said more needed to be done for the children.
“This is a human rights violation,” she said.
“People are hitting the streets to bring it to the attention of the Australian government.
The group of 20 inmates from Banksia Hill, the youngest just 14 years of age, will be moved into a newly built 256-unit at Casuarina that will be managed separately to the adult male population.
Reports of damaged cells at the detection centre emerged in June, when it was revealed in state budget estimates that about 100 of the 250 cells at Banksia Hill were too damaged to use.
Indigenous mother Joanne Ugle attended the rally and said the move to Casuarina would further damage the boys.
“To be realistic, that’s going to cause so much trauma,” she said.
“Being a mother myself, and a grandmother, [it is worrying to] see kids as young as 14 years of age going to a maximum prison surrounded by all sorts of people, all sorts of criminal activities.
“That will cause trauma, that will cause so much great depression, self harm and [cause them to] maybe take their life.”
Plan demonstrates failure of system: Save the Children
Save the Children condemned the move, with state director Noelene Swanson saying in a statement it highlighted the “dehumanising conditions” the children had experienced.
They said all the same services, including medical, mental health, education and other support programs would be offered at the temporary facility and they would have no contact with adult prisoners.
“It is anticipated the temporary centre will be available for up to 12 months while urgent works are completed at Banksia Hill,” the spokoesperson said.
“Each individual will be able to return to Banksia Hill when assessed as suitable to do so.”
Aboriginal Legal Service challenges ‘unlawful’ detainment
The protest ended at the David Malcolm Justice Centre, where the Supreme Court was told a detainee at Banksia Hill was allegedly confined to a room for up to 24 hours.
Justice Paul Tottle heard the juvenile was also allegedly detained for more than 10 hours on multiple occasions in February, while on some days he was only allowed out for 30 minutes to shower and make a phone call.
The defence counsel told the court confinement was for the “purpose of safety”, and sometimes there was medical advice to restrain a person.
However, the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA, which is representing the detainee, said the confinement was unlawful.
It argued there was no evidence to suggest that confining the detainee for long periods was required as they were not a risk to themselves or others.
Justice Tottle has reserved his decision in the case.
Government has ‘abandoned’ children
Liberal leader David Honey said the McGowan government had effectively abandoned vulnerable children in the state’s north, where many youths in the detention centre were from.
Mr Honey described them as a forgotten generation of children growing up on the streets of local towns.
“Those children need to be in a safe environment, and I hope they are,” he said.
“But clearly there’s not enough being done to stop these kids getting into trouble in the first place.
“We need much more diversion for these kids and we need safe places for these kids in their local communities so they’re not out in the streets getting into trouble.”