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Issue #1809      February 7, 2018

Abuse allegations at WA detention centre

Amnesty International Australia has called for the immediate closure of the intensive support unit at Banksia Hill Youth Detention Centre in Western Australia, following allegations of serious abuse of young people, which it says may amount to torture.

The claims that children have been tortured at Banksia Hill by being kept in solitary confinement for 250 days were rejected by the WA government, the Department of Corrective Services and the union representing staff.

But late last month, WA Corrective Services Minister Fran Loan ordered the Inspector of Custodial Services to investigate the claims. The department is also investigating.

“Can I assure the people of WA, young people are not held in solitary confinement,” Mr Logan said. “The only time that young people in Banksia Hill are held in separate accommodation is for protection for themselves.”

Amnesty International Indigenous rights manager Tammy Solonec, who visited Banksia Hill and interviewed two young people, said detainees at the centre have also been strip-searched, fed through a grill and constantly handcuffed when they are outside their cells.

“These are very serious allegations, which if confirmed would put the practices at the Banksia Hill Detention Centre in clear breach of international law and standards, and may amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” she said.

“What I was told at Banksia Hill by these two young people was deeply disturbing.

“Being held for weeks on end in a cell as small as a car parking space, with as little as ten minutes out of the cell each day. When they did leave the cell, being handcuffed. Sometimes being denied access to basic services like a shower. Being fed through a grill in the door. And despite the serious mental harm of this type of isolation, limited access to a psychologist.”

In November last year, the Australian Commissioners and Guardians group released a statement saying that “the use of isolation on a child or young person should be prohibited, except when necessary to prevent an imminent and serious threat of injury to the child or others, and only when all other means of control have been exhausted.”

“Oversight”

“Isolation should be used restrictively and only for the shortest appropriate period of time, and be publicly reported to an independent oversight mechanism. The use of isolation as punishment, or on a vulnerable child or young person, should be prohibited, it said.

Ms Solonec told radio station 6PR that there can be serious psychological consequences with solitary confinement and she had mental health concerns for these boys. She read out a letter from one boy, who said the intensive support unit had changed him “in a bad way”.

“I’m more institutionalised. I just feel very cold-hearted ... I really do feel like this is the last straw for me,” he wrote. “I need help and I need it fast or I’ll end up doing something stupid.”

Ms Solonec said the boy’s mother was concerned he was not being rehabilitated but contained liked an animal. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in WA Indigenous young people are 44 times more likely than other young people to be in detention.

Commonwealth Public Sector Union/Civil Services Association (the union that represents public servants in WA) branch secretary Toni Walkington rejected the allegations, adding the intensive support unit, set up following a riot in May, had provided stability.

WA Corrective Services Commissioner Tony Hassell also denied the torture allegations, but said there would be an examination. He said the unit had two teachers, a psychologist and recreation officers, and young people in the unit had the same access to facilities such as televisions and family visits as other detainees.

In a statement the Justice Department said it “strongly rejected” Amnesty’s claims about “torture or abuse of young people”.

“The department robustly reviews all allegations concerning young people at Banksia Hill and the Amnesty claims are being assessed,” the department said.

Last year, the chief inspector revealed unprecedented levels of self-harm and other problems at the centre, recommending the WA government consider repurposing the facility and opening smaller ones.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Koori Mail

Next article – Exploitation of food-delivery riders

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