• A study of Victoria's children kept on remand in a one year period found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children comprised 15%. (Mayu / Flicker )Source: Mayu / Flicker
Amnesty International has welcomed an inquiry into alleged abuses at WA's juvenile detention centre but wants the "harmful" unit closed until it is completed.
NITV Staff Writer

18 Jan 2018 - 12:58 PM  UPDATED 23 Jan 2018 - 9:37 AM

Amnesty International has backed an independent inquiry into alleged abuses at Perth's juvenile detention centre but says at-risk young people remain in a harmful unit in the meantime.

WA Corrective Services Minister Fran Logan announced last week that Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan would examine the allegations of abuse made by Amnesty International that include some children being held in solitary confinement for long periods.

Amnesty International indigenous rights manager Tammy Solonec said it was a positive step to see the minister had listened to concerns.

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"However, right now young people are still being held in the harmful intensive support unit at acute risk of further trauma," she said.

"Getting these young people out of this damaging environment is an urgent priority. The unit must be shut down until the inquiry releases its findings."

Mr Logan told AAP the inspector's office had not called for the unit to be shut down.

"Based on my discussions with the inspector and the department, the unit will continue to provide the intensive supervision that some detainees need," he said.

"It is a unit that in some ways has more resources dedicated to it than the other units including psychological support, education, recreation and external visits."

Mr Logan has repeatedly insisted no children are kept in solitary confinement and the union representing staff has also rejected the claims.

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Amnesty International says detainees at Banksia Hill Detention Centre have been strip-searched, fed through a grill and constantly handcuffed when they are outside their cells.

The human rights watchdog's Indigenous Rights Manager Tammy Solonec has warned that the alleged prolonged solitary confinement of teenagers may amount to torture under international law. 

"These are very serious allegations, which if confirmed would put the practices at the Banksia Hill Detention Centre in clear breach of international law and standards, and may amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” Ms Solonec said. 

Solitary confinement involves a person being placed in a closed cell on their own for at least 22 hours, with no meaningful human contact. Prolonged solitary confinement is when this occurs for more than 15 days in a row.

Amnesty says according to several sources, three young Indigenous people were held for periods of solitary confinement in the Intensive Support Unit, previously called the Harding Unit, for at least two weeks at a time between May and August last year.

"No child should ever be in solitary confinement. Children’s brains are still developing, teenagers brains are still developing, it’s very damaging for any human being to be in solitary confinement," Ms Solonec said. 

"We should make sure this never happens again in Australia."

Ms Solonec and Amnesty International are calling for a full investigation into the children's claims and management practices.

"The first and immediate action is to get the children who are in the Intensive Support Unit (ISU) and the young people, even if they have turned 18, out of that unit."

CPSU/CSA branch secretary Toni Walkington said the ISU, set up following a riot in May, had provided stability.

"There have been no serious assaults, incidents or need for special operations group intervention at the centre (since then)," she said.

Corrective Services Commissioner Tony Hassell also denied the torture allegation but said there would be an examination. He said the unit had two teachers, a psychologist and recreation officers, and detainees had the same access to facilities such as televisions and family visits.

Corrective Services Minister Fran Logan said he had been assured solitary confinement was not happening.

"Other issues raised by the Inspector of Custodial Services about the operation of Banksia Hill under the previous Liberal-National government in 2016 are being addressed," he said.

In a statement, the justice department said it "strongly rejected" Amnesty's claims about "torture or abuse of young people".

"The facility is subject to a high level of external oversight and the Inspector of Custodial Services can visit at any time."

A report in July last year revealed unprecedented levels of self-harm and other problems at the centre, recommending the state government consider re-purposing the facility and opening smaller ones.

Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan noted there were five attempted suicides and 191 cases of self-harm at the facility in 2016, compared to 77 cases of self-harm in 2015. The state government refused to close the centre, which is the only juvenile detention centre in WA, claiming it was an "important part of our correctional facilities". 

Tammy Solonec said the government's response to the latest allegations was expected, and that Amnesty International would continue to fight for the centre to be closed.

"We expected the department to deny the allegations, but we are a major human rights organisation, we wouldn’t go out on this unless we were sure, unless we had credible sources and we do," she said. 

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