The state of Western Australia is so vast, if its approximate population of 2.64 million people were to be spread out, everyone would have roughly one square kilometre to themselves.
There’s at least one adult prison in each of the state’s six regions, and a total of eight adult prisons in the Perth metropolitan area.
But when it comes to youth detention, there is only one centre for the whole state — that is the infamous Banksia Hill, which has made headlines over the years due to their alleged poor treatment of the boys and girls between 10 and 17 years of age sent there to serve their sentences.
Located in Canning Vale, 29 kilometres from the city of Perth, Banksia Hill has estimated inmate population of 220. Seventy-two per cent of the detainees at the Banksia Hill is of Indigenous descent.
In January, Amnesty International revealed that it had interviewed two boys who claim to have been left in the centre’s Intensive Support Unit (ISU) in isolation, one for over 300 days, and may have been solitarily confined following an incident in May 2017. If the solitary confinement was prolonged, this would amount to “torture”, Amnesty believes.
Jason, one of the boys, was 17 at the time of the incident. He claims he was placed in solitary confinement on May 5th last year and has remained there since.
His mother, Kylee Douglas, has been campaigning for her son to be released from confinement.
“Jason is defeated, he is now destroyed, he doesn’t say too much. He is just… he is just very broken,” she told The Feed.
“He doesn’t say much but his eyes are very ruined, his voice is very different, there is no confidence, there is no self-esteem, he has been stripped of his dignity and self-worth and that shows.”
Jason wrote a letter on October 2, 2017, saying he has not been told why he’s been sent to isolation; and that the first couple of months were the “hardest”.
“Since my stay down in ISU I have thought of self-harm a lot and (have) self- harmed,” he wrote.
“I strongly believe that leaving me down here is not the best solution for me, I think it is the worst.”
Jason says out of the 17 months that he had been in Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre, he has spent at least 12 months in ISU.
“I strongly believe ISU has changed me in a bad way, I’m more institutionalised, I don’t talk to my mum as much as I used to,” he continued.
“I really do feel this is the last straw for me. I need help and I need it fast or I will end up doing something stupid.”
Western Australia has the highest rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth incarceration. The chances of First Nations children being incarcerated there are 52 times higher than their non-Indigenous peers. This is double the already alarming national Australian average, where Indigenous children are 24 times more likely to be sent to jail than non-Indigenous kids.
Overall, Western Australia also holds the nation’s highest disaggregated jailing rate of Indigenous Australians, with 3,745 per 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults behind bars; the world’s second highest, just below the incarceration of African Americans in the United States (about 4,000 per 100,000).
The ‘Incident’, the response and its consequences
Seven offenders aged between 15 and 18 years old were reportedly involved in a ‘disturbance’ in May last year which resulted in a riot squad intervening.
A flash bomb and capsicum spray were used to calm the detainees. This was the sixth incident at the facility in eight months.
All seven boys were relocated to the ‘Harding Unit’ or ISU, as it’s now known, following the disturbance.
Intensive Support Unit is also where the isolation cells are found.
Of the three boys who were transferred to the unit, two of them are Aboriginal and the other is Maori.
Jason's mother Kylee says there were times when her son did not want to have family visits because he was embarrassed that he had been self-harming.
“I wish I knew but he said he didn’t want to worry us. He was feeling very embarrassed and he said at the time he didn’t feel that he wanted to worry or cause concern for mum and dad and his brother and sister,” she said.
The Department of Justice claims any inmate who has been moved to ISU has access to the same privileges as other young people.
“The focus of ISU is to help these young people rehabilitate and reintegrate back into the Centre’s general population, but the safety of the other detainees, staff and the young people concerned must be taken into account,” a spokesperson said.
However, Amnesty International stands by the three boys whose claims, if proven to be true, break both international laws and West Australian laws.
Tammy Solonec, Amnesty International Indigenous Rights Manager, claims the treatment of the boys who were put into what she calls ‘punishment cells’ is similar to the abuse seen in Don Dale, which was recently investigated by the NT royal commission into youth detention.
“It is alleged that every morning their bedding was taken off them and they had to earn the privilege of getting it back. That they did not receive adequate education or medical treatment. That they were subjected to excessive use of force and restraints, that they were fed through ‘the grill’ or made to face the floor or wall with their hands on their head, so food could be brought into them, and that they were handcuffed every time they left the cell," Ms Solonec said.
“They were made an example of to all the other children in a way that was degrading and humiliating,” she said.
There are also claims from the three boys that during the first two weeks of being sent to isolation, they were only let out of their cells for less than 10 minutes a day.
According to the Youth Offenders Act 1994, offenders can be dealt with by being confined to a sleeping quarter or designated room “for a period not exceeding 24 hours if the order is made by the superintendent; or for a period not exceeding 48 hours if the order is made by a visiting justice.”
If these allegations are true, other laws would’ve also been broken.
The Youth Offenders Regulation 1995, section 79, verse four states: “a detainee whose confinement is for 12 hours or longer is entitled to at least one hour of exercise each 6 hours during unlock hours.”
The Department of Justice said they take “allegations of mistreatment seriously” and would encourage any detainee who has an issue with their treatment inside the detention centre to make a complaint to the “appropriate authority”.
“There are ways for young people at Banksia Hill to make confidential complaints to the Department and external agencies,” the Department’s spokesperson said.
Alleged violation of international law
Ms Solonec believes Banksia Hill Detention Centre may have also broken international legislation.
“Under international law, prolonged solidarity confinement, which is more than 22 hours a day in your cell without meaningful human contact, for 15 consecutive days, if that happens, under international law, that’s torture,” she said to The Feed.
Jason’s mother Kylee does not live in Perth and has to travel almost 600 kilometres from Kalgoorlie, every few weeks to visit her son.
Kylee says her son has been informed that he is most likely going to spend the rest of his sentence in isolation; however, Jason is fighting to be transferred to an adult prison.
“His words to me were, ‘any place has got to be better than this’”, she said.
Kylee claims her son has been told he will be deported back to New Zealand.
“Jason has no family to support him in New Zealand. Jason will literally be homeless, he will spend the rest of his life trying to forget his 300 plus days in isolation in Banksia Hill and he will have to go through that alone,” she said.
WA Corrective Services Minister Fran Logan announced earlier in the year that Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan would examine the allegations of abuse made by Amnesty International.
Mr Logan has previously insisted no children are kept in solitary confinement and the union representing staff has also rejected the claims.
Kylee admits her son is ‘no angel’, and that he was involved in the May incident. However, she insists he isn’t the 'ringleader' the centre claims he is.
“We understand that the boys have to be punished for what they did — he understands, I understand … 95 per cent of his (Jason’s) charges are from being detained in Banksia,” she said.
Jason is the only one out of the three boys to remain in the Intensive Support Unit.
One of the Aboriginal boys was moved to an adult’s prison as he was 18 at the time of the May incident. The other released from ISU last month.
Kylee says that’s no reason for her son to be treated like an animal.
“Jason will spend the rest of his life trying to forget his 300 plus days, and I as a mother, I will spend the rest of my life knowing that I couldn’t protect him from those 300 days.”