A damning report into the operation of Western Australia’s youth corrections system has identified systemic failures and regular mistreatment of young people in detention.
Ben Schokman, a lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the youth justice system is entirely failing Western Australia’s young people.
“Evidence shows that inflicting unreasonable and harsh conditions on prisoners will increase the risk of reoffending once they are released. So not only are incidents like these damaging for the children and young people within the justice system, but they are not in broader community’s interest because ultimately, every single one of them will be released back into the community,” Mr Schokman said.
The report describes how young people at the Banksia Hill Detention Centre were held in ‘lockdown’ of almost total solitary confinement for a three week period which culminated in a riot on 20 January 2013. For several weeks afterwards, the young people were then detained in their cells for 23 hours each day, and subjected to extensive use of handcuffs and strip searches on a routine basis.
“The criminal justice system is supposed to promote rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. This type of poor treatment in detention will not reduce crime. It breaches the right to humane treatment in detention and a range of relevant children’s rights, including the ‘best interests’ principle, and only serves to increase the risk of future offending,” said Mr Schokman.
Western Australia’s independent Inspector of Custodial Services completed the detailed report into the riot and the subsequent transfer of more than 70 young people, mostly Aboriginal, to the adult Hakea Prison. The Inspector’s report detailed strong criticisms of the state’s youth justice system and makes 35 far-reaching recommendations.
“The report highlights that the corrections system is currently failing these young people. The ball is now in the Western Australian Government’s court to consider the 35 recommendations carefully and take concrete steps to ensure the humane treatment of young people in detention,” said Mr Schokman.
The Inspector found the detention facility was a “fragile facility” where a major security incident was “entirely foreseeable”. In addition to criticisms about the facility’s security culture, poor emergency preparedness and “seriously deficient” staff training, the Inspector said the lockdown of detainees in the lead up to the riot “was not reasonable and not necessary by way of risk management”.
The Inspector concluded that a “fresh approach” is required and that responsibility for youth justice lie with a specific agency whose responsibility is youth justice services rather than adult imprisonment. He indicated that the steps that needed to be taken by the WA Government were “not rocket science” but should be capable of resolution with “good will” and “good management”.
On a positive note, Mr Schokman said the release of the Inspector’s report highlighted the importance of WA’s system of independent monitoring and oversight of places of detention.
“This is another compelling example of why Australia should ratify the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. Western Australia is the only state in Australia that currently meets the international standards. That’s just not good enough,” said Mr Schokman.
A copy of the Inspector’s report is available at http://www.custodialinspector.wa.gov.au/go/banksia-hill-inquiry/banksia-hill-inquiry.
For further information or comments:
Ben Schokman 0403 622 810 or firstname.lastname@example.org