The Cook Government has failed to immediately commit to stopping solitary confinement of inmates with a disability at Banksia Hill, as recommended by a scathing Royal Commission.
The Federal Disability Royal Commission singled out the WA Department of Justice with a series of recommendations in its final report released on Friday, including for practises that amounted to solitary confinement of children with a disability to “immediately cease”.
Corrective Services Minister Paul Papalia was asked if the State would immediately stop the practise, but referred comment to a state government spokesperson who told The West the recommendations would be “carefully considered”.
“The Department of Justice has already undertaken extensive work to address matters raised in the report, with significant progress made in recent months,” the spokesperson said.
“Staffing levels in youth detention have improved and a new therapeutic model of care — developed in consultation with First Nations people — is being implemented.
“Efforts to recruit and retain staff have drastically reduced the need for lockdowns.”
Lawyer and human rights advocate Hannah McGlade said solitary confinement was “dangerous” and called for the State to end the practice straight away in light of the commission’s report.
“This has been a very important Royal Commission held over a number of years. The findings support the concerns of Aboriginal people in WA who are deeply worried about the wellbeing of children at Banskia Hill,” Ms McGlade, a Noongar woman, said.
“The recommendation to end solitary confinement must be heeded. The practise is dangerous and it puts children at risk of suicide and other mental health issues, physical illness and death.”
Menang Noongar woman and director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project Megan Krakouer said the recommendations were “no-brainers that should always have been the case”.
“Hopefully, the WA Government implements these basic recommendations, but there is still a long way to go to meet the needs of these children,” Ms Krakouer said.
The Royal Commission — which started in 2019 — also recommended the WA Department create a new “operating philosophy” where youth detainees are managed in a “therapeutic, non-punitive, non-adversarial, trauma-informed and culturally competent way” and to promote senior First Nations staff and staff with disabilities.
The State spokesperson said Banksia Hill now had an Aboriginal Services Unit led by an Aboriginal member of the senior management team tasked with providing better cultural care at the facility.
“Additional staffing has enabled a significant increase in young people’s time out of cell – enabling greater access to education, programs, services and recreation,” they said.
“Since 2022 more than 130 new Youth Custodial Officers have been recruited, with 36 recruits currently undergoing training at the Corrective Services Academy and four more training schools scheduled for 2024.”
While former Premier Mark McGowan took a hard line on youth detainees, his successor Roger Cook said on taking the reigns as Premier he had his “own views” and introduced a raft of measures to improve welfare in June
The State spokesperson said a review into WA’s youth justice infrastructure was “well-advanced” and would determine if a second youth detention centre was needed to better care for young people in the justice system
“There are a number of Royal Commission recommendations which intersect with this review, and all will be considered,” they said.
Dr Fiona Stanley, a fierce critic of the State’s handling of youth in detention, said the recommendations were totally in line with what the State had been told “on many occasions over the last year”.
“One important set of recommendations is however missing, which relates to the proper assessment of children on remand, before they go to court and are detained, and the proper provision of health care.
“The assessments need to be done by a team of developmental health professionals so that they are properly diagnosed and the reasons for the behaviour of the child is better understood.”