• Former detainees of Banksia Hill are being urged to come forward (Artwork by Ray Lalotoa)Source: Artwork by Ray Lalotoa
The Juvenile Detention Centre in WA could become the subject of a class action, as former detainees and families are being urged to come forward with their alleged experiences of 'inhumane treatment'.
Rachael Hocking

11 Feb 2021 - 11:51 AM  UPDATED 11 Feb 2021 - 11:51 AM

The early stages of a class action are underway, with lawyers and community advocates appealing to former detainees of Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre (BHJC), south of Perth, to come forward and share their experiences.

The class action, according to its registration form, will focus on the alleged mistreatment of young people detained at Banksia Hill, with the hopes it will lead to "institutional change" and financial compensation.

"There really is strength in numbers," the site reads.

"The more ex-BHJC detainees we register, the greater the pressure on the WA Government to be held to account."

Speaking to NITV News, lawyer Stewart Levitt said Banksia Hill had an "appalling history".

Mr Levitt cited an Amnesty International report from 2018 which alleged the centre breached international standards, including allegations of prolonged solitary confinement.

The allegations were rejected at the time by the state's corrections watchdog.

"The state has certain responsibilities, as the parent of these children, who are often wards of the state, or will become wards of the state by virtue of their being consigned to such facilities," Mr Levitt said.

"And especially in Australia, where the age of criminal responsibility has been treated as 10-years-old."

The West Australian inspector of custodial services rejected the majority of Amnesty's 2018 report, and said claims about prolonged solitary confinement "were not substantiated". 

A 2017 inspection of the centre revealed restraints, flash bombs and shotgun laser sights were being used to control detainees and self-harm was increasing, while another report that same year found a substandard delivery of education.

The Department of Justice said the situation had improved.

"99.1 per cent of young people in detention of compulsory school age in WA attended an education course in 2019-20" a statement from the Department reads. 

"The Centre provides full-time education, recreation, psychological and psychiatric services, cultural support through the Aboriginal Welfare Officers and organised programs."

Community advocate, Marianne Mackay, who is a Yoorgabilya from the Whadjuk Noongar Nation, told NITV News this was not the reality for the young people she knew who had been inside.

She said a class action was the best way to shed light on the allegations publicly.

"A lot of the kids will suffer and go through things without complaining because they feel like their voices aren't heard," she said.

"They just want to do their time and get out of there and get back to some kind of normality with their families outside those centres, you know, because they're treated like little criminals."

"The more young ones that speak up, the more can be done in a class action because it shows the extent of what is actually going on."

In a statement to NITV News, the Department of Justice said it can't comment on "potential legal actions", but encouraged anyone with complaints to contact the Department directly "or independent oversight bodies such as the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services".

Ms Mackay said she hoped the proposed class action would lead to a complete overhaul of the justice system, calling for 'healing centres' instead of prisons.

“It's not a place that any child should be," she said.

"The government needs to understand that they need to really shake up that system in there... take some accountability and work with the community to change it.”

"There needs to be a real healing focus, you know they need to come forward with a real holistic approach....so that their dreams can be achieved and they're not coming out more traumatized than when they went in there."

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, visit lifeline.org.au or find an Aboriginal Medical Service here. Resources for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can be found at Headspace: Yarn Safe.

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