The rates of suicide attempts and self-harm within WA’s controversial Unit 18 juvenile detention facility have spiked to record levels
The rates of suicide attempts and self-harm within WA’s controversial Unit 18 juvenile detention facility have spiked to record levels, heaping pressure on WA’s
new corrective services minister to overhaul the state’s treatment of young prisoners.
New figures show that there were almost twice as many self-harm attempts within Unit 18 in May than there were for the first seven months of the unit’s existence. The surge came as prisoners were confined alone to their cells for an average of 22.5 hours a day over the month. The figures also show that there were five suicide attempts inside Unit 18 during April and May.
Unit 18 was established within the maximum security Casuarina men’s prison last July to accommodate prisoners from the Banksia Hill juvenile detention facility that were deemed to be particularly disruptive. The unit has held 14 to 15 juvenile prisoners on average in recent months.
The treatment of children inside Unit 18 has drawn widespread criticism from current and former Children’s Court presidents and advocates, and both units have been marred by ongoing riots. The biggest of those, which occurred last month, caused tens of millions of dollars of damage at Banksia Hill.
The latest self-harm figures follow a scathing recent report from the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services into Unit 18 and the main Banksia Hill juvenile
The report found that the McGowan government’s controversial decision to ship a cohort to Unit 18 had worsened, rather than improved, conditions inside both
facilities. It found “every element of Banksia Hill was failing”.
New WA Premier Roger Cook has made juvenile detention an early priority of his government, shifting the corrective services portfolio from Bill Johnston to Police Minister Paul Papalia.
Information tabled in the WA parliament this week showed that there were three suicide attempts, one major self-harm incident and 49 incidents of minor self-harm within Unit 18 in May. The previous month saw two suicide attempts and 20 minor self-harm incidents inside the unit.
The rates compare to seven attempted suicides, two serious self-harm incidents and 25 minor self-harm incidents within Unit 18 between July and February.
A spokesman for the WA Department of Justice said the recent rise in incidents at Unit 18 related more to the individuals rather than a change in conditions at the facility.
He said detainees often presented with histories of trauma, substance abuse and self-harm and a higher incidence of intellectual disability and mental illness.
“Self-harm can occur for a variety of reasons and these behaviours can continue to be seen once in custody,” the spokesman said. “One detainee was involved in 17 of the incidents of minor self-harm in April and May.”
The data was tabled in response to a question from Greens MP Brad Pettitt, who told The Australian the self-harm figures were “disturbingly high”.
He said Banksia Hill and Unit 18 appeared to be stuck in a downward spiral, in which lockdowns drove poor behaviour, which in turn drove increased staff
departures, which required more lockdowns due to labour shortages. “Being in the equivalent of solitary confinement for 22 hours a day is pretty
appalling,” he said.
“There needs to be a radical shift to stop this spiral at what must be one of the worst prisons in the country.” The latest OICS report found there was a “major
deficiency” in staffing at Banksia Hill and Unit 18, including a significant loss of experienced staff through resignation, retirement and workers compensation.