For the last six years, Banksia Hill Detention Centre has been the only option to house young offenders in Western Australia.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up 70 per cent of the total population.
The Inspector of Custodial Service has conducted his sixth report in six years and found there has been some progress in the last nine months but expressed concerned that the centre still has a long way to go.
“Banksia Hill must hold all ages, genders, cultures and backgrounds, and every young person there has complex health and development needs,” Acting Inspector Andrew Harvey said in a media statement.
“Put simply, there are too many young people in one place… for very good reason, no other state or territory has such a large facility or a ‘one- stop shop’”.
The Inspector’s report looked at many aspects of the facility including staff and administration, control and safety, living conditions, rehabilitation, education, and health services.
Amnesty International has again called for urgent action at the children’s prison.
“Corrections Minister Fran Logan cannot hide behind these reports any longer. For these girls and boys, this report or the next one or the next one won’t matter,” Indigenous Rights Manager at Amnesty International Australia, Tammy Solonec said in a media statement.
‘Gross violation of the rights of vulnerable children’
A report in 2014 recommended the number of strip searches being conducted needed to be reduced.
In the new Inspection report released on Wednesday, it stated despite the decrease in strip searches, in the past two years it was still significantly high with almost 13’000 searches being conducted to children as young as 10.
Amnesty described the strip searches as ‘gross violation of the rights of vulnerable children’.
“Staff did 12,813 strip searches over the two years 2015-2016, on children as young as 10 years old, despite finding only 10 items of contraband… [it] should only be carried out when absolutely necessary,” Ms Solonec said.
The juvenile detention centre was also criticised for the lack of education access the detainees could obtain.
The Inspector’s report stated Banksia was ‘poorly resourced and understaffed’ and that the services there had not met community standards.
“Every child in Australia has a right to education, and young people in custody should not be receiving a lower standard of education than those in the community,” the Inspector’s report said.
The Inspector recommended if there was no improvement in Banksia’ education program within the next 12 to 18 months, the Department of Education should take over responsibilities.
Lack of Aboriginal Culture
Banksia Hill Detention Centre has the capacity to hold 210 juveniles, in the last five years the centre generally held 140-150 youths but that number recently went over 170.
Although the detention centre has Aboriginal artwork on display in the outdoor areas and in the administration area; inside where the detainees stay the artwork was absent.
The Inspector’s report also found that Aboriginal Welfare Officers often felt criticised by non-Aboriginal officers for identifying too strongly with young people in the centre. The welfare officers also reportedly felt that they were being pressured into being less flexible, less culturally appropriate and less effective.
Since the 2014 Inspector Report, very few Aboriginal staff has been employed. At the time of the inspection, which occurred in July 2017, Aboriginal staff made up five per cent of the staff population.
The Inspector’s report stated Aboriginal staff have a “key role” to play in the prison, however, their skills and community connection as described by the report are “undervalued” and “under used”.
The report also found that despite many of the non- Aboriginal prison staff having a history of working with Aboriginal youth, they lack an understanding of Aboriginal lifestyles, worldviews, aspirations, and social hierarchies across the state. The report stated increasing the number of Aboriginal staff can help address the lack of cultural awareness.
Banksia Hill Detention Centre became Western Australia’s only youth detention centre in 2012 after the closure of Rangeview Remand Centre.
There have been a number of critical incidents at the detention centre however the Inspector’s report found the second half of 2016 was the worst. Six incidents involved staff assaults, three barricading incidents, 11 occasions where detainees gained access to roofs, and high numbers of self-half incidents.
Such incidents at the detention centre resulted in a lockdown and restricted time outside of prison cells for all detainees, not just those involved.
Multiple incidents in 2016 caused so much damaged young female detainees were moved from their purpose built self-contained unit into a different section of the prison, described by the Inspector as a “wholly inappropriate unit” which was located close to the boy's units.
The girls were punished for the misbehaviour of the male detainees as well as being ‘severely disadvantaged’ as described in the report.
Since 2014, there has been no more than 10 girls and no less than five housed at Banksia. At the beginning of the Inspector's report, the youth prison had seven female detainees, making up six per cent of the total prison population.
A total of 16 recommendations were made by the Inspector to the Department of Justice. Fourteen recommendations are currently being worked on with completion dates varied between May 2018 and December 2020, one has been completed and one not supported.
Last year, Amnesty International began their campaign to free three detainees who had been held in solitary confinement.
Although the Inspector’s report, which was released yesterday, did not go into details about these three detainees, the Inspector did say he will deliver a separate report on Amnesty’s allegations later in the year.