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Issue #1822      May 16, 2018

Serious human rights abuse at Banksia Hill

Children in Western Australia’s Banksia Hill youth detention centre have been subjected to chemical agents, flash bombs and had laser sights from firearms pointed at them, according to a report by the Inspector of Custodial Services.

Last month the Inspector released a report into Banksia Hill, highlighting numerous serious concerns, including frequent critical incidents, volatility, lack of education and a restrictive regime, particularly for children in the Intensive Support Unit (ISU).

More than 70 percent of the children in Banksia Hill are Aboriginal and close to 90 percent have some form of disability.

Tammy Solonec, Indigenous Rights Manager at Amnesty International Australia, said urgent reform was needed at Banksia Hill, with children suffering a range of harmful conditions and practices, including excessive strip-searching.

“Staff did 12,813 strip searches over the two years 2015-1016, on children as young as 10, despite finding only 10 items of contraband,” she said. “While this rate dropped significantly in 2016, excessive strip-searching remains a gross violation of the rights of vulnerable children and should only be carried out when absolutely necessary.”

Ms Solonec said that the centre’s ISU “created a highly inappropriate and counter-therapeutic environment to house young people who are, or had been, acutely mentally unwell” and called on WA Corrections Minister Fran Logan to close the unit.

She said a young person has now been held in an isolation cell in the ISU, the size of a car parking space, for more than 350 days, has resorted to self-harm, and is applying to be transferred to an adult prison.

“When a young person is desperately applying to be transferred to a harsh adult prison just so they can get away from the punishment unit in Banksia, it’s clear that conditions are very bad,” she said.

The report also found that the children’s prison is breaching international standards by subjecting all children to collective punishment; there was inadequate support to connect Indigenous children to culture, or support for Indigenous staff members; there was inadequate support for children with diverse needs, citing a recent Telethon Institute study, which showed that nine out of ten of the children in Banksia have some form of brain injury; and girls in the centre were housed inappropriately, with fewer access to privileges than boys, such as being able to make food for themselves and access sports training sessions run by external sporting clubs.

Ruth Barson, director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that the findings were jaw-dropping.

“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,” she said.

Ms Barson said Banksia Hill is over capacity due to WA’s excessive and punitive laws and called on the Government to ban solitary confinement of children.

“Like Don Dale, Banksia Hill is a sinking ship that should be abandoned and replaced with small, home-like facilities,” she said.

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

“Children who should be in Grade 4 are being imprisoned,” she said. “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.”

WA children in detention

  • 70 percent of children are Indigenous
  • Subjected to chemical agents, flash grenades and laser-sighted guns
  • Forced to spend more time locked in cells
  • Forced to undergo thousands of strip-searches
  • Exposed to prolonged solitary confinement
  • Denied proper education
  • Denied proper health care
  • Inadequate cultural support
  • Inadequate support for children with diverse needs
  • 90 percent of the children in Banksia Hill have some form of brain injury.

Koori Mail

Next article – Budget fails our children – Australian Education Union

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