- In short: Youth detainees have no air conditioning in their cells at Casuarina Prison’s Unit 18.
- Temperatures have hit upwards of 40 degrees Celsius in parts of Perth this week.
- What’s next? There are fresh calls for Unit 18 to be closed immediately, with authorities yet to answer questions about what else is being done to help detainees stay cool.
Some of Western Australia’s most vulnerable teenagers are sweltering through Perth’s heatwave without air conditioning in a converted adult prison unit.
Perth reached a top of around 40 degrees Celsius on Thursday, with the temperature expected to reach 41C over Friday and Saturday and 37C on Sunday.
Official government advice recommended people “stay indoors with your air conditioner or fan on” to try and keep cool, but that has been impossible for some detainees inside Unit 18 – an isolated part of the maximum security Casuarina Prison in Perth’s south-east.
A Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed individual cells inside Unit 18 were not air conditioned.
“Young people are generally provided with fans to use in their cells,” he said.
“In some cases, fans … may be removed if damaged and/or for the safety of the detainee and staff.
“Youth custodial and medical staff regularly monitor the health and wellbeing of detainees during hot weather.”
The lawyer for a 17-year-old the ABC has called Toby, who was yesterday told by a Children’s Court judge he had been “well and truly failed” by the justice system, said he was among those without even a fan.
The Aboriginal Legal Service’s Linda Salsano said the boy had been relying on a fan to keep cool in recent days, but that it had recently been removed, making it difficult for him to sleep.
She said that was on top of continuing extensive lockdowns — including ones similar to what the Supreme Court ruled amounted to solitary confinement — that were further distressing Toby.
In response to follow-up questions from the ABC, the Department said cells in the adult wing of Casuarina Prison were also not air conditioned.
‘Inhumane’ conditions criticised
Curtin University senior law lecturer Stephen Monterosso, who specialises in juvenile justice, said it was “another example of inhumane treatment” at Unit 18.
“Excessive lockdowns in combination with 41C temperatures inside a small space sounds quite horrific to me, and I’d imagine most people would agree with that,” he said.
“Anything that adds to inhumane treatment in these facilities is not going to be helpful in trying to mitigate recidivism and the escalation to adult offending.”
The facility was meant to be temporary but looks set to remain in place for years as the government builds a purpose-built facility.
Greens MP Brad Pettitt said the unit should be closed immediately.
“Kids in Unit 18 are routinely held in their cells for more than 20 hours per day, conditions that already breach their human rights,” he said.
“Given the heatwave we are currently experiencing, it is absolutely shameful that these cells also don’t have air conditioning.
“The Cook government has no choice and there can be no more excuses. They must immediately close Unit 18.”
Report urged action on cooling
A 2015 report by WA’s then-inspector of custodial services Neil Morgan considered the effects of extreme conditions in prisons and detention facilities.
“While it is acknowledged that air conditioning is a costly form of temperature control, especially if buildings require extensive retrofitting, the financial cost of any heat-related death or serious injury would also be very high,” he wrote at the time.
“I do not resile from the view that air conditioning should be installed in prison facilities where acceptable temperatures cannot be maintained using cheaper methods.”
In a separate report into a major 2013 riot at Banksia Hill, Mr Morgan wrote about the risks associated with using fans saying “fan motors, wrapped in socks, proved to be a popular tool for damage and attempted break-outs”.
Concerns persist for other prisons
Earlier this week the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) also raised concerns about Roebourne Prison still being without air conditioning after the government promised $10 million to install it in 2022.
Then-corrective services Minister Bill Johnston said the upgrade would not take place until 2023-24.
“Given record temperatures following extreme heat in the Pilbara this summer, the relentless heat places the lives of inmates at great risk and the government cannot drop the ball given the failure of the tender process,” ALS CEO Wayne Nannup said in a statement.
“It needs to find a way, and quickly, to ensure that air conditioning is installed as a matter of urgency.
“WA cannot continue to wait and watch as the inmates stay locked up in such unacceptable, inhumane and life-threatening conditions.
“Contrary to the rosy picture painted by the government that conditions in Unit 18 and Banksia Hill are on the improve, the experience of some young people in custody remains bleak.
“If a young person acts up in Unit 18, the punishment has been to not only remove items from their cell such as TVs, but cooling fans as well.
“In the midst of an extreme heatwave, this practice is not only ridiculously harsh, but courting disaster.”
The Department of Justice also confirmed most cells at Perth’s Banksia Hill juvenile detention centre were not air-conditioned, but common areas were.
“Centre routines are modified to adjust to heat conditions and recreation adjusted, for example, to indoor activities in air-conditioned rooms,” the Department said.
“Staff ensure young people are hydrated and encourage them to wear sunscreen and hats when outside.
“Young people generally are provided with fans for their sleeping quarters.”