• Young children from across Western Australia are handcuffed and flown down to Perth to serve sentences at Banksia Hill. (ABC Kimberley)Source: ABC Kimberley
Banksia Hill Detention Centre is again being criticised for taking Aboriginal children off country as legal services call for more cultural approaches to treating youth offenders.
Rangi Hirini

17 May 2018 - 11:43 AM  UPDATED 17 May 2018 - 11:47 AM

Thousands of young people from across Western Australia travel to Perth throughout the year for work, study and travel. But for some young West Australians, their first time in the state’s capital city is one they are unlikely to want to repeat.

Of the 150 young people inside Banksia Hill Detention Centre, the state's only youth prison for 10 to 18-year-olds, at least 112 identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, with more than half coming from regional areas.

A 2015 Amnesty International report found West Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were 53 times more likely to be jailed than their non-Indigenous peers.

The centre has been in the news often since a detainee riot last year, with the most recent independent Custodial Inspection report revealing that staff use flash grenades, capsicum spray and laser sight guided firearms, among other concerns.

Earlier this year a study revealed that nine out of ten young people in detention at Banksia Hill  have a form of mental impairment from brain damage or injury, while three out of ten have alcohol related brain damage.

Director of Legal Services at the West Australian Aboriginal Legal Service Peter Collins tells The Point Banksia Hill is no different than an adult prison and says the treatment of Indigenous detainees was a serious concern.

“There’s not a lot of difference between what Banksia Hill looks like and an adult jail. It’s got high walls, it's designed so people can’t escape out of it, it’s got heavy metal doors which locks automatically, you got to be buzzed through the entrance of the detention centre to see clients, it’s got all the hallmarks of an adult jail,  you can try and sugar coat it, but that’s the reality of the situation.”

"It’s in effect, to put it bluntly, a juvenile jail.”

As the only facility in the state for juvenile offenders, many children from remote and regional Western Australia end up at Banksia Hill.

“They get shipped all the way from Kununurra to Banksia Hill in Perth. So they’re removed from family, from country, from culture, thousands and thousands of kilometres away, they might as well be going to Mars,” Mr Collins says.

However the WA Government has rejected criticisms levelled at the management of the facility since last year, and continues to insist the facility is not a jail.

The Corrective Services Minister Francis Logan points to a wide range of initiatives which he says show the facility has and is continuing to change; cadet programs, careers expos, anger management and emotional trauma programs.

“The McGowan Labor Government inherited a youth detention facility that was a shambles after eight and a half years of the Liberal-National government," he told The Point in a written statement.

“Shortly after being elected, this government put an end to the dysfunction and put a structure in place that the detainees and staff have responded to well."

CEO of Aboriginal Legal Service in Western Australia Dennis Eggington says taking Aboriginal children off country causes harm.

“What creates that, what creates the situation that that child is put into a position where they are taken away from country?” he asks.

“A country that takes 10-year-old and 11-year-old children, from one country to another for stealing a loaf of bread because they’re hungry and they end up in penal colonies in Australia, isn’t much different from this state locking up 10-year-old, 11-year-old and 12-year-old kids for stealing a Freddo frog because they’re hungry.”

“How do you overcome the damage of a monster factory? I don’t know.”

Banksia Hill has been under major scrutiny since becoming the sole youth detention facility in WA. In the past six years, Banksia has had a total of six investigations conducted into its management by the WA Inspector of Custodial Services. Normally, the inspector would conduct an inspection only once every three years.

The latest report by the Inspector Neil Morgan released earlier this year stated Banksia Hill had made some progress following changes made since last year, but found the centre was not fit to accommodate the variety of children currently imprisoned there and cater to their needs.

“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 at the time.

“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’”.

"Every period of crisis has been preceded by poor leadership and management, compounded by denial and spin.”

The 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 found.

The report also noted that despite a 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.

“There are grounds to be cautiously optimistic but I also have a depressing sense of déjà vu,” Morgan wrote. “For the nine years I have been in this job, Banksia Hill has lurched from crisis to partial recovery and then back into crisis. In the last six years alone, we have had the mismanaged amalgamation project (2012), the January 2013 riot, and the chaos of 2016–2017."

"Every period of crisis has been preceded by poor leadership and management, compounded by denial and spin.”

Banksia Hill Detention Centre has the capacity to accommodate 260 detainees. According to the West Australian Department of Justice’s website, Banksia only houses offenders who have committed “serious offences”.

“Offences committed by young people sentenced to detention at Banksia Hill include homicide, acts intended to cause injury, robbery, extortion, unlawful entry with intent/burglary including break and enter,” a spokesperson for the Department of Justice told The Point.

However, there are detainees who are inside Banksia Hill because they have been refused bail, breached bail or have been remanded in custody for less serious offences.

The West Australian Minister for Corrective Services Francis Logan told The Point, the former Liberal- National government had left the youth detention centre in a “shambles”.

“Shortly after being elected, this government put an end to the dysfunction and put a structure in place that the detainees and staff have responded to well,” he said.

“It is important to realise that Banksia Hill is now a very different facility to what it was under the eight and a half years of the Liberal-National Government, although there is still much more work to do.”

The detention centre is also implementing a new model of care (MOC) which is a trauma-informed, multi-disciplinary approach that considers the individual needs of each young person. This is in addition to a number of Indigenous staff employed as case workers and welfare officers.

However, the Aboriginal Legal Service is calling for a better alternative than sending children to Perth and away form their communities.

There have been campaigns in the past by Indigenous politicians, MLA Josie Farrer and federal Labor Senator Pat Dodson for there to be a regional juvenile facility in the Kimberley; however, the State government has so far not made any changes to arrangements for youth prisoners.

The state government does however offer a regional alternative for youth offenders called Youth Justice Services (YJS) Programs. The program branch across five areas, Rehabilitation; Emotional Wellbeing; Education, Training and Employment; Life Skills, Health and Development; and Bail Services. The program runs through most of regional Western Australia including Goldfields; Mid-West Gascoyne; Pilbara; East Kimberley and West Kimberley.

A report from 2016 showed the program successfully diverted young people from reoffending.  The Regional Youth Justice Services provided 5214 services in 2014-15. The program worked with 1046 young people across 927,438 square kilometres and an estimated 274 remote Aboriginal communities.

“A key focus has been on working with Aboriginal organisations to help trial innovative community initiatives to help reduce reoffending and the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in custody,” a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said.

The recent West Australia budget has extended the Regional Youth Justice Service program in regional Western Australia. However, children are still being sent down to Perth and held at Banksia Hill.

Mr Collins says Banksia is not the solution for rehabilitating children.

“I’ve been working at this service for a long time now, I’ve acted for a lot of juvenile offenders, I’ve acted for a lot of them who have gone to detention, and I couldn’t tell you one kid who I have acted for, who has come out with a rose rehabilitated future ahead of them and are a better person as a consequence of being locked up in Banksia Hill, it’s not the answer,” he says.

However, the Corrective Minister says there is a need for a detention centre.

“Western Australia does need a juvenile detention facility because there is no escaping the fact that some young people have committed very serious crimes that have caused significant damage to their communities and individuals,” Minister Logan said.

“Detention is always a last resort, but while offenders are in detention great steps are taken, often in a relatively short period of time, to try to help turn their lives around.”

However, the battle isn’t over for the children once they leave Banksia Hill.

The CEO of ALS WA, Dennis Eddington, says the young offenders have a long path to recovery after they leave.  

“How do you overcome the damage of a monster factory? I don’t know,” he says.

“I just think that their resilience and strength of our people, the leadership role of our elders. I think they all give us hope that if these young kids come out of such a traumatic environment, that we’re there for them and I believe we are. We resisted, we fought strong but we still we’re still here and we still care for our kids.”

 Watch The Point on Thursdays, 8.30pm on NITV (Ch. 34) or catch up On Demand.