Families of Banksia Hill detainees speak out following transfers to Casuarina Prison
Family members of youth detainees who were relocated to an adult maximum security prison say the move will trap their children in a cycle of violence with little hope for rehabilitation.
Seventeen teenagers were temporarily relocated last week from Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre to Casuarina Prison after a recent “escalation in extreme behaviour”.
“They don’t know where these kids come from. Most of them had to experience trauma as babies,” a grandmother said.
“Treating juveniles harshly … they grow up with it, they can’t break out of it. They start building up resentment and a hatred for authority.
“They’ve had so much violence in their lives, that worries me. That’s our future. That’s our children.”
A mother of another youth detainee says her child spoke to an adult prisoner in Casuarina Prison, despite the Department of Justice saying there would be no contact.
“They locked him down all day [on Sunday for] 23 hours,” she said.
“They let him out to go to the toilet, and then they put him back in.
“In the one hour when he went to the toilet, he was speaking to an adult prisoner through the mesh, through the fence.”
Casuarina the ‘least worst option’
WA Commissioner for Children and Young People Jacqueline McGowan-Jones says the temporary facility built for the youth detainees is separate from the main prison.
“It’s probably about three to four hundred meters distance between the cell blocks, and the fence has been blacked out so they can’t see the adult detainees,” she said.
Ms McGowan-Jones said the facilities in the temporary cell block were “perfect”, but the fact it was located in an adult maximum security prison was concerning.
She pointed at an incident in 2013 when dozens of youth detainees were temporarily relocated to Hakea Prison after a riot, and received violent threats from adult prisoners.
“That hasn’t happened yet, but it potentially could,” she said.
“The lack of investment into Banksia over many, many years has seen us with the least worst option [which has been] to move them here.”
Children blamed for ‘system failures’
The youth justice system disproportionately incarcerates disadvantaged children, and little has been done to effectively address the issue, according to Australian National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds.
“The children are being blamed for the problems which, really, are the result of the long-term failure of our systems,” she said.
“There is no roadmap. There is no plan. It’s completely uncoordinated.”
Ms Hollonds says Western Australia needs to implement “diversionary methods”, used to minimise youth contact with the justice system, which have been shown to reduce the rate of reoffending.
“They will reduce recidivism… rehabilitate kids, and reintegrate them back into the community,” she said.
“Methods that provide therapy and treatment for their problems, that provide training and education, and pathways to employment.
“We’re really out of step with the rest of the developed world.
“We need to transform how we address the problems of youth crime so that the community can also be kept safer.”
Lawyer slams teens’ treatment
The decision by WA’s Department of Justice is an abuse of human rights and a regression from modern prison conventions, according to Curtin Law School associate professor Hannah McGlade.
“The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits incarceration of children in adult facilities,” Dr McGlade said.
“There is a proviso [if] it is in their best interest… but this is clearly not the best interests of children who are highly traumatised.”
Dr McGlade says more resources need to be put into providing therapeutic responses to help indigenous youth from “vulnerable” families, rather than further punishment.
“They are being punished for actually acting in a way that was entirely foreseeable,” she said.
Despite only making up about 10 per cent of the country’s population, about 20 per cent of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners are in WA.
“We are supposed to be closing the gap on indigenous incarceration, and yet here in Western Australia, the state is undermining that national policy commitment and doing the absolute opposite,” Dr McGlade said.
‘Extreme’ behavioural issues behind relocation
The state government has defended its decision to relocate the youth detainees as a necessary move to protect staff at Banksia Hill.
“We’re dealing with a group of young people who have severe, and I mean severe, behavioural issues,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said.
The Department of Justice said living quarters within Banksia Hill had been destroyed, and the youth detainees had threatened and attacked prison staff.
It said the relocation would allow for repairs in Banksia Hill, and the youth detainees would return “as soon as practicable”.