Chemical agents, flash grenades and laser-sighted shot guns unleashed on children in Western Australia’s youth jail

Chemical agents, flash grenades and laser-sighted shot guns unleashed on children in Western Australia’s youth jail

A report released by the Independent Inspector of Custodial Services has detailed horrific conditions and treatment in Western Australia’s only youth jail, Banksia Hill. The Inspector has called on the McGowan Government to take urgent action.

The report shows that in 2016 and 2017 children in Banksia Hill were:

  • Subjected to chemical agents, flash grenades and laser-sighted shot guns;
  • On an average day, forced to spend more time locked in their cells than outside;
  • Forced to undergo thousands of strip searches;
  • Exposed to prolonged solitary confinement;
  • Denied proper education; and
  • Denied proper health care.

Ruth Barson, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that the findings were jaw-dropping and that the McGowan Government must overhaul Western Australia’s decaying youth justice system.

“It’s mind boggling to think that while the Northern Territory Royal Commission into the abuses in Don Dale was turning over every stone to make sure such cruelty never happened again, just across the border in Western Australia, children were being subjected to similar brutality,” said Ms Barson.

In the report, the Inspector says that he has a “depressing sense of déjà vu” and that for the nine years he has been in the job “Banksia Hill has lurched from crises to partial recovery and then back into crisis”. 

The Inspector’s report builds on five previous reports which have shown a pattern of abuse and neglect in Banksia Hill. The Inspector has previously called Banksia Hill a failure and recommended it be closed, in favour of smaller, home-like facilities.

Banksia Hill is Western Australia’s only youth jail and is over-capacity due to Western Australia’s excessive and punitive laws. There are currently around 170 children in Banksia Hill, some as young as ten, including young girls and children on remand who have not been found guilty of an offence.

Ms Barson said that Western Australia’s youth justice system is cruel and antiquated and in desperate need of repair. 

“Like Don Dale, Banksia Hill is a sinking ship that should be abandoned and replaced with small, home-like facilities. Premier McGowan must heed the Inspector’s warnings and the Northern Territory Royal Commission’s recommendations and close its super-max youth jail, raise the age of criminal responsibility and categorically prohibit solitary confinement,” said Ms Barson.

The Western Australian Government imprisons Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at a rate outpacing all other Australian states and territories. Approximately 70 percent of children in Banksia Hill are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and close to 90 percent have some form of disability. Whereas other states and territories are reducing the number of children they imprison, Western Australia is going in the opposite direction.

Ms Barson said the McGowan Government must abolish unjust laws like mandatory sentencing that result in Aboriginal children in Western Australia being one of the most imprisoned groups of young people on earth.

“Children who should be in grade 4 are being imprisoned. Children who are recovering from childhood trauma are being strip searched. Children who have an intellectual disability are being forced into solitary confinement. How we treat children today shapes our tomorrow,” said Ms Barson.

For interviews please contact:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519