Prison watch dog finds WA Government likely in breach of Torture Convention

Prison watch dog finds WA Government likely in breach of Torture Convention

Human rights lawyers are calling on WA Corrective Services Minister, Francis Logan, to categorically prohibit solitary confinement for children, in the wake of a report by the Independent Inspector of Custodial Services into alleged ill-treatment at the notorious Banksia Hill Youth Detention Centre.

While the Inspector found that not all allegations of ill-treatment were proven, he found that two of the young men who were subjects of the inquiry ‘were probably held in solitary confinement’ and if so ‘the Department was in breach of the Convention against Torture’. The Inspector described conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. For around ten days in 2017, the boys:

  • Did not get even one hour out of their cells every 24 hours;
  • Had extremely limited contact with peers and other people; and
  • Had virtually no access to television, radio, or reading and writing material.

Minister Logan earlier this year denied that children had been held in solitary confinement.

The Inspector concluded that the laws governing isolation practices are ‘obsolete, outdated and inconsistent’ and that they ‘fail to meet international minimum standards’.

Shahleena Musk, senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, who has been a youth justice lawyer for children in both Banksia Hill and Don Dale youth jails, said that solitary confinement has absolutely no place in a fair and humane youth justice system.

“Children should never be exposed to abuse or the trauma of solitary confinement. Today’s report should act as a wake-up call for Minister Logan. It is clear that Western Australia’s laws are perilously broad and put children at risk of harm. The Minister must immediately heed the Inspector’s calls to tighten the laws so that this mistreatment never happens again,” said Ms Musk.

In calling for legislative reform to isolation practices, the Inspector found that ‘improved legislation, that is anchored in international standards, will improve legality, clarity and consistency’ and that ‘without [reforms], it will be hard to distinguish the lawful application of separation practices from abuse’.

International law prohibits the use of solitary confinement on children because of the proven psychological, emotional and physical risks. International law defines solitary confinement as a person being locked alone in a cell for 22 hours or more a day without any meaningful human contact.

In the wake of the horrors exposed at Don Dale and the recommendations of the Northern Territory Royal Commission, the NT Government earlier this year passed new, landmark laws explicitly prohibiting solitary confinement and strictly regulating the use of separation.

Ms Musk said that Minister Logan should follow NT’s lead and modernise its laws to reflect basic standards of respect for children’s humanity and dignity.

“If Minister Logan wants to ensure that all children behind bars are safe, then he must prohibit solitary confinement in all of its forms. Failing to do so leaves children in serious danger. Complying with human rights standards will ensure that no child is exposed to the type of cruel treatment detailed in the Inspector’s report,” said Ms Musk.

For interviews please call:

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