Australia

Children subjected to 'unnecessary, traumatising' strip searches in NSW prisons

The data was released on Monday. Source: AAP

The Human Rights Law Centre is calling on the NSW government to end routine strip searches of children in juvenile detention centres.

Hundreds of strip searches have been conducted on children as young as ten at prisons in NSW with new data revealing very limited contraband is uncovered.

According to figures obtained by the Human Rights Law Centre under Freedom of Information, 403 strip searchers were conducted on youth detainees over a month in 2018 at two NSW youth prisons.

The searches at Frank Baxter and Cobham Juvenile Justice Centres resulted in only one item of contraband – a ping pong ball.

Human rights advocates are calling on the NSW government to ban the frequency of the prison practice, saying the latest data reveals strip searches are "unnecessary" and "ineffective."

"There is no evidence that routine strip searches have a deterrent effect," Monique Hurley, a lawyer at the HRLC, told SBS News on Monday.

"Subjecting that cohort of young people to a traumatising practice over and over again is completely unacceptable."

She suggested the government look at alternative methods, for example "the use of wands and body scanners similar to those used at the airport."

In Victoria, 1,798 searches were conducted over six months in 2017 with only 14 items found — including medication, cigarettes, rolling paper, wire, a toilet roll holder and crystal balls.

In Western Australia, four items were uncovered following 801 searches over the same period.

And in Tasmania 203 juvenile strip searches were conducted across a six-month period but no contraband was found.

The ACT has laws so that children can only be strip searched as a last resort.

Searches 'are carried out appropriately'

A spokesperson for Youth Justice NSW told SBS News "safeguards and provisions are in place to ensure searches are carried out appropriately". 

"Searches are conducted on the basis of a risk assessment for contraband to ensure the safety of staff and young people at the centre at all times," the spokesperson said. 

"Youth Justice NSW only conducts partially clothed body searches. Young people are never fully naked during a search." 

Last week a 21-hour riot broke out at the Central Coast Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre with more than 30 inmates attacking known sex offenders with makeshift weapons.

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