- The Premier says many Banksia Hill detainees have committed serious crimes
- But Denis Reynolds says this does not address whether the facility is fit-for-purpose
- He said the government was ignoring concerns about unlawful treatment
WA Premier Mark McGowan’s comments on youth crime are a political strategy to distract from the unlawful treatment of children in the state’s youth justice facility, according to a former president of the WA Children’s Court.
The Premier yesterday dismissed claims a 13-year-old girl was held in solitary confinement in Banksia Hill Detention Centre for more than seven months straight as “hard to believe”.
The claims were outlined in documents filed in the Federal Court as part of a class action seeking compensation for more than 600 current or former Banksia Hill detainees on the basis of discriminatory and inhumane treatment.
In response to questions about the class action, Mr McGowan also defended the state’s youth justice system.
“We’ve done enormous amounts to keep people out of Banksia Hill … all sorts of intervention programs,” Mr McGowan said.
“The people who do end up in Banksia have generally committed some very serious crimes.
“Often homicide, sexual assault, armed robbery, multiple, and when I say multiple I mean scores of burglaries.”
But former WA Children’s Court president, Denis Reynolds, told a public forum those comments were “seriously misleading” and distracted from the issue at hand, which was whether Banksia Hill was fit-for-purpose.
“The Premier and the Minister are saying these are bad, bad children behaving badly, ignoring deliberately any reference to the unlawful treatment,” he said.
“It’s the treatment in that place that is causing the behaviour and that’s what we want to stop.”
He said rolling lockdowns, which have seen children detained in their cells for more than 20 hours a day, were deemed unlawful in a Supreme Court judgement handed down in August.
That judgement was in relation to a 15-year-old boy who was locked up for days at a time, with Supreme Court Justice Paul Tottle ruling the government broke its own laws.
The WA government testified in that case that staff shortages, as well as more than double the number of critical incidents and instances of cell damage compared to the previous year, had contributed to detainees being locked in their cells for long periods of time.
Mistreatment in detention exacerbates offending: Reynolds
Mr Reynolds said despite this ruling, the Department of Justice continued to confine children to their cells which resulted in them acting out and led to more offending once they were released.
“Children who committed serious offences, detention is an appropriate sentence … that’s required to ensure the safety of the community,” Mr Reynolds said.
“Inevitably, the children will be released.
“We want children when they are released to not be aggressive, not be angry, because of the way they’ve been treated in Banksia and Casuarina and then act that out against someone in the community.”
Respected health researcher Fiona Stanley told the same forum the majority of children in Banksia Hill had serious neurological issues.
“Some of these kids are not born bad, but they’re certainly born with brain damage … and bad treatment [can] exacerbate that,” Dr Stanley said.
“My worry is that they’re not going to be able to be remediated.”
A spokesperson for Mr McGowan said he believed the facility was fit for purpose and was operating lawfully.
Last year the state government announced it would invest $60 million into Banksia Hill, including upgrades to facilities and funding therapeutic programs.
Violence breaks out at juvenile facilities
A Department of Justice spokesperson said Corrective Services officers were yesterday forced to respond to incidents at both the Banksia Hill and Unit 18 [Casuarina Prison] detention centres.
Three detainees caused damage to infrastructure at Unit 18, and used improvised weapons to threaten and attack staff, they said.
Two officers were allegedly assaulted.
Meanwhile, three detainees at Banksia Hill caused significant damage to their cells, breaking out and threatening staff before surrendering, the spokesperson said.
There were no injuries.