- WA’s first youth prison death has prompted a misconduct probe
- 16yo Cleveland Dodd died in hospital overnight
- His grandmother has spoken of her family’s pain and anger
WARNING: This story discusses incidents of self-harm and the image of an Indigenous person who has died.
WA’s Corruption and Crime Commission is investigating an allegation of serious misconduct following a teenager’s death a week after he was found unresponsive inside his cell at a problem-plagued prison unit.
Cleveland Dodd, 16, died last night at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, a week after he attempted to take his own life while inside Unit 18, a hardened detention facility for juveniles in an isolated part of adult maximum security Casuarina prison.
The teenager, who was on remand waiting for his next court appearance, had been on life support – with family from across the state rushing to be by his side.
His grandmothers spoke to the ABC earlier this week, saying they would not be leaving Perth until they had answers about the circumstances surrounding their grandson’s death.
The teenager is understood to be the first young person to die in detention in Western Australia since modern records began in 1980.
Like all deaths in custody, the incident will be the matter of a coronial inquest but the Corruption and Crime Commission has also announced it is investigating an allegation of serious misconduct arising from an ‘incident’ on the date he self-harmed.
“The Commission has taken the unusual step of making a public announcement in relation to this investigation, given the extensive reporting, public interest and the seriousness of the incident,” it said in a statement.
Minister unaware of CCC investigation
When asked about the investigation at a press conference to announce Cleveland’s death on Friday morning, Corrective Services Minister Paul Papalia said he was unaware of the CCC’s investigation.
“I can confirm that the CCC’s had oversight of the internal inquiry since about Thursday last week, but that’s not, as far as I know, that’s not an actual investigation,” he said.
“A coronial inquest is as thorough and as powerful an inquiry you can get and the coronial inquest will now be the primary means of investigation in this matter.”
Speaking the morning after the teenager’s death, his paternal grandmother said the family would get to the bottom of what had happened.
“It’s not nice sitting next to his bed seeing your grandson take his last breath,” she said through tears of grief and anger.
“I’ve got five sons, they’ve all been in Banksia [Hill], they’ve all seen how they treat the kids in there.
“I’ve got 40 grandchildren, most of my grandsons [have] been in there, they’ve all seen what they do to kids in there.”
She said she was too angry to meet with the minister, as he had previously offered.
“Many kids [have] been born in the bush, lived in the bush all their lives, bringing them here and locking them up in cages … 23 hours a day they had him locked in a cell, for three months.”
“I don’t even think a dog get locked up like that, a dog get let out and fed and a bit of freedom but they’ve done it to my grandson.”
His family later released a statement, saying the “grieving was unthinkable”.
“Our beautiful boy is with the spirits of our ancestors, in their strength of our ancestors, he too rests with strength,” the statement read.
“We as a First Nations People have been suffering from one generation to another, and we cannot stand by and watch this carnage on our children.”
‘Terrible tragedy’: PM
WA has the highest rate of Indigenous incarceration in the country, and an over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in custody at Banksia Hill, the state’s now notorious youth detention centre.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described Cleveland’s death as a “terrible tragedy” and said his government was trying to address Indigenous disadvantage.
“Australians do want to see the gap closed, they do want to see Indigenous disadvantage dealt with … and we’ll continue to work in this area,” Mr Albanese said.
National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds told ABC News Radio it was unacceptable a child would die in such circumstances in Australia.
“WA, as well as a number of other jurisdictions, are struggling to provide the standard of care that’s needed for children who often come with disabilities, trauma, mental health issues, learning problems,” she said.
“These are highly vulnerable children, many of them who are victims themselves of circumstances that are way beyond their own control.
“These children should be receiving education, rehabilitation, being supported to reintegrate well back into the community.”
‘Entirely preventable death’
Amnesty International has also slammed the WA government for its handling of the tragedy, calling the teenager’s demise an “entirely preventable” death.
“The blood of this Aboriginal child stains the hands of former Labor Premier Mark McGowan, Premier Roger Cook and the Attorney General John Quigley,” Amnesty International Indigenous Rights spokesperson and Palawa elder Uncle Rodney Dillon said in a statement.
“They were told over and over that locking children in Unit 18 places them in acute danger, but refused to act.”
Mr Dodd’s lawyers from the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) had pleaded with the Department of Justice to move him out of Unit 18, fearing for his wellbeing, two weeks before he took his life.
The letter said “he has generally not received more than one hour out of his cell per day, and on some days no time out of his cell at all”.
ALS director of legal services Peter Collins said the department acknowledged it had received the letter but gave no “substantive response”.
When asked if the ALS’ allegations about his time spent in his cell was correct, Mr Papalia said that matter was now subject to a coronial inquest.
Premier Roger Cook – who expressed his “wholehearted condolences to the family” on behalf of the government – said on Friday the CCC inquiry was not out of place.
“My understanding is the CCC have responded to an accusation with regards to misconduct and under their legislation, they’re obliged to undertake an initial inquiry into those matters. That is as it should be, ” he said.
Shut Unit 18: premier
Cleveland had been detained in Unit 18 after it was set up last year at Casuarina Prison as a temporary place to house a “difficult cohort” of young offenders from Banksia Hill Detention Centre.
Over that time there has been at least 20 attempted suicides and 350 incidents of self-harm.
Last week, the premier described the facility as a “necessary evil”, prompting an outcry from advocates.
But during a media conference with the prime minister in Perth on Friday morning, Mr Cook said he wanted to see Unit 18 closed.
“Can I just say I want to see Unit 18 shut down,” he said.
“Ultimately that is our aim, but with a quarter of the beds burned down or damaged at Banksia Hill we now have to make arrangements to house those young people until we can improve things at Banksia Hill.”