It's been a long year in Western Australia's youth justice system, but it could be turning a corner.
By
Ryan Emery in Perth

Source
World News Radio
5 Feb 2014 - 8:36 PM  UPDATED 5 Feb 2014 - 9:34 PM

(Transcript from World News Radio)

 

It's been a long year in Western Australia's youth justice system.

 

A riot at the state's only juvenile detention centre, children strip searched and kept in an adult jail, and a Supreme Court case challenging the government's actions.

 

But the system could be turning a corner.

 

Ryan Emery reports from Perth.

 

Western Australia's Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis is standing in one of the refurbished units at Banksia Hill juvenile justice centre.

 

And he's feeling optimistic.

 

"I just want to see things change and see things get done. I think a lot's happened in the last 12 months in juvenile justice. We're a year on from the riot at Banksia Hill and we should be very proud of what we've achieved in the last 12 months."

 

The biggest achievement, some would argue, has been to get children out of an adult jail where some spent 10 months.

 

The riot at Banksia Hill left the facility mostly unlivable, so the young detainees were moved to Hakea adult jail as there was nowhere else to put them.

 

That decision attracted condemnation from the state's former Commissioner for Children and Young People, Michelle Scott.

 

It also sparked a Supreme Court challenge, which included the Australian Human Rights Commission.

 

The case was dismissed, but during the trial, several issues were raised.

 

The state had the lowest ratio of youth custodial officers to detainees, cell lockdowns were excessively long, rehabilitative programs were severely curtailed, and children had been strip searched at the adult jail.

 

But now that the detainees are back at Banksia Hill, minister Joe Francis says things will be different.

 

"More has happened here than has happened here for many years in this particular field. Of particular note is that remandees, those remanded in custody, now have access to programs they didn't have before. It was always about those that were sentenced and the remandees were somewhat overlooked. At the end of the day, you've got to seize every opportunity to try and correct people."

 

The programs include education, culture, drug rehabilitation and recreational.

 

Detainees and those awaiting trial can see a psychiatrist and security has also changed.

 

Units are separated by high fences while grilles have been placed on windows and bars added to small windows that the detainees smashed and crawled through during the riot.

 

"We now have the highest ratio of youth custodial officers to juvenile detainees for who knows how long. For a long time. // "Reporter: What is that ratio?// "Well, there's about 235 youth custodial officers and today there's about 155 juveniles in detention at this particular facility. We're about to recruit more youth custodial officers so if compare that to what it was at the time of the riot 12 months ago when there was about 210 youth custodial officers to 230 odd detainees, clearly we're in the much better place now then what we were 12 months ago."

 

But Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis says he wants to stop young people ending up in Banksia Hill at all.

 

He says he'll establish a youth justice board that will focus on diversionary and rehabilitative programs and give individuals the support they need.

 

"There's been criticism over the years that once corrections have finished with a juvenile detainee they are out on the street and child protection don't want to know about them and vice versa. Child protection let go of the juvenile once they become the responsibility of corrective services. There is a whole range of government departments that need to start talking, cooperating a lot more than what they are at the moment and this is exactly why we will have a youth justice to oversee and coordinate this kind of multi-faceted approach."

 

The state opposition's Paul Papalia says academics must be included on the board.

 

"The problem with this board is it will be essentially appointed by government, I know they say it will be by the Commissioner, but the government will have a big say, and it will be drawn largely from individuals who have already been confronted with this problem and have essentially not had the innovation and the ideas to deal with it. We need a new approach and I think really the best thing to do would be to bring in qualified and experienced people because there are. There are academics who can do this right across the country, but here in WA as well."

 

Mr Papalia says a complete commitment to the principles of youth justice reinvestment is needed if young offending is to be tackled effectively.

 

He says continual monitoring of what policies are working and what aren' is also required so changes can be made as necessary.

 

"It's a framework in which you can do a whole lot of things. The first thing you have to do is take out of the hands of government the analysis of where the problem lies, the scale of the problem, what's broken in those different hotspot communities and then bring in all sorts of people like they've attempted to do: businesses, NGOs, community leadership and government to try to solve the problems in those communities. But that's a framework in which you operate. It's not one program here or there using the phrase justice reinvestment that's not what justice reinvestment is."

 

The plan to establish a youth justice board is awaiting approval by cabinet, but minister Joe Francis says it's one of his highest priorities.