Children in prison subject to 100s of unnecessary strip searches

Children in prison subject to 100s of unnecessary strip searches

Newly obtained data shows that in one month, 403 strip searches were conducted on children at two youth prisons in NSW. Only one item – a ping pong ball – was found as a result of these strip searches.

NSW has a policy of regularly and routinely strip searching children, including when a child first enters the prison, after every contact visit and after every court appearance. The Human Rights Law Centre obtained the data from Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre and Cobham Juvenile Justice Centre.*

Monique Hurley, a Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that strip searching children is traumatising and unjustifiable.  

“This is shocking data. Strip searches involve forcing children as young as ten to remove their clothing in front of two adult prison guards. Routine strip searches are invasive, dehumanising and utterly unnecessary. Premier Berejiklian should commit to ending this humiliating practice today,” said Hurley.

According to Juvenile Justice NSW, children in prison are much more likely than children in the community to be victims of violence and sexual abuse and to struggle with their mental health. Almost half of the children in prisons have been exposed to a past traumatic event, 68% have experienced childhood abuse or neglect and 83% have been diagnosed with a psychological disorder.

“Forcing children to remove their clothes over and over again is deeply harmful. The numbers speak for themselves. There is no evidence that strip searches have a deterrent effect. There are far more effective and less intrusive ways of checking for contraband like using x-ray scanners,” said Hurley.

The ACT prohibits routine strip searches on children and has laws so that children can only be strip searched as a last resort, in circumstances where there is reasonable intelligence which indicates they are carrying something dangerous. Strip searchers are then only conducted after all other less intrusive search alternatives have been exhausted, like using a scanner. The NSW Government is already trialling scanners and x-ray devices in some adult prisons.

The NSW Inspector of Custodial Services supports banning routine strip searches, having repeatedly said that strip searches should not be carried out on children on a routine basis and should be replaced by a risk-based assessment process.

“There is absolutely no reason for the NSW Government to allow such a damaging and degrading practice to continue. Evidence from Australia and other countries shows that reducing strip searches does not increase the amount of contraband in prisons. The Government should stop subjecting children to such a harmful and distressing practice,” said Hurley.

* Late 2018 the Human Rights Law Centre made a request for strip search data for all child prisons in NSW for the six month period from 1 June 2018 to 30 November 2018. The NSW Government refused to provide this data because it was a “substantial and unreasonable diversion of resources”. Only recently, the NSW Government provided one month of data for two prisons – Frank Baxter and Cobham juvenile justice centres – which shows that children detained in those prisons were subjected to 403 strip searches over a one month period. The Human Rights Law Centre has been unable to access data for Acmena, Orana, Reiby and Riverina juvenile justice centres.

Media contact:

Michelle Bennett, Communications Director: 0419 100 519