• Inmates at the Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre on the NSW Central Coast. (NSW Government)Source: NSW Government
Children can be locked alone in cells for up to 23 hours a day and self harm is a regular feature of the youth justice system in New South Wales.
NITV Staff Writer

5 Sep 2018 - 2:38 PM  UPDATED 5 Sep 2018 - 2:39 PM

The NSW Corrections Minister has deliberately avoided reading a draft of a long overdue report into the solitary confinement of young people.

David Elliot called for the independent review in 2016 following the scandal at the Northern Territory’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.

At the time, he had said “there is no practice or provision of isolation of young people in custody”.

The independent Inspector of Custodial Services, Fiona Rafter, sent a draft of her findings to the minister’s office in December.

However, Mr Elliot told a parliamentary estimates hearing on Tuesday he has not read it – nine months after he received it.

“I will not read a report until it is completed,” he said.

“There is no use in me reading a report until I know that it is a completed, objective piece of advice.”

'Not isolation'

The minister was also asked how many juvenile detainees were being held in isolation.

“We do not have isolation per se in New South Wales,” he replied.

“It is either segregation or confinement because there are legislative and practice standards and safeguards to govern the way that we manage children in custody.”

Ms Rafter told the hearing the draft report was sent to the minister’s office as a courtesy. She could not tell the estimates committee when her final report would be completed. 

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Under law, children are not allowed to be confined to a cell as punishment for more than 24 hours.

There are no limits on how long a juvenile detainee may be separated or segregated from other inmates.

The hearing was told there were 357 incidents of self-harm involving 100 juvenile detainees between 2017 and 2018.  Half of those incidents were attributed to 12 detainees.

Ms Rafter said her report would address if there was a relationship between the rates of solitary confinement and self harm.

The hearing was told the average period of confinement was five hours and 20 minutes.

'Good news'

The overall number of juvenile detainees has fallen by 20 per cent since Mr Elliot became the minister in 2015.

There were an average of 286 inmates in juvenile detention centres in NSW last year compared to 353 in the last year of the previous Labor government.

The “good news” according to Mr Elliot, was that the proportion of Indigenous inmates in juvenile detention had fallen from 53 per cent last year to 47 per cent this year.

“I am horrified at that figure, but I am very proud of the fact that… Juvenile Justice NSW staff have been able to bring that down quite significantly,” he said.

Mr Elliot highlighted many programs designed to reduce Indigenous over-representation in the justice system.

“When I say to you that I consider every child - not only in Juvenile Justice but every child of an inmate -as my own, I am telling you this is the reason that we put these programs together,” he said.

However, the minister and senior officials stalled questions on sexual assaults, juvenile confinement, solitary confinement and security breaches – taking the questions “on notice” rather than during the hearing.

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Labor MP Guy Zangari said the minister was “all bluff and bluster” about providing a duty of care while burying his head in the sand.

“He asks for a report and then can’t be bothered to read it,” the shadow corrections minister said in a statement.

“In the wake of the Don Dale scandal in 2016, tough-talking Minister Elliott has done little to inform himself and the community as to the practices of confinement and isolation in NSW Juvenile Justice Centres.”