*** This article was updated on 25 July to include a statement by the Australian Human Rights Commission ***
Croakey reported earlier this year that an official investigation had documented human rights violations of children held at a Banksia Hill Detention Centre in Western Australia.
This centre is a maximum-security facility that holds sentenced and unsentenced boys and girls from the ages of 10 to 18 and over. A report in 2020 found 74 percent of detainees were First Nations young people.
Reports that up to 20 children, some as young as 14, have been moved today from the Centre to a maximum security adult prison have drawn condemnation from the Change the Record coalition, whose statement follows below.
Statement by Australian Human Rights Commission
Issued by: June Oscar AO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner; Anne Hollonds, Australia’s National Children’s Commissioner; Lorraine Finlay, Australian Human Rights Commissioner
The Australian Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned about the safety and wellbeing of 17 teenagers who were moved yesterday from Banksia Hill youth detention centre to the adult, maximum security Casuarina Prison in Western Australia.
This is not a safe or suitable option for these young people, many of whom have experienced cruel and degrading conditions already in their treatment at Banksia Hill, including long periods in isolation and inadequate care for their complex needs. They require immediate assessments for mental health concerns and appropriate, ongoing care.
It is time for all Australian governments to change their punitive approach to youth justice in favour of systems that recognise the needs of children and provide them with appropriate care and rehabilitation. We must urgently prioritise trauma-informed programs of diversion and rehabilitative pathways.
The Commission has long raised these issues with state and federal governments. The Commission has urgently advocated for improvements to the youth justice system with the new federal government, and with the previous federal government.
The community expects youth detention programs that are effective and well resourced. The current punitive approach does not keep our communities safe, with the evidence showing it leads to higher rates of recidivism. It is not an effective use of taxpayer dollars, and it fails to protect the rights of children.
Australia is out of step with rest of world, where many countries have systems focused on early intervention and diversion in place for young offenders. All the evidence shows these to be more effective approaches to rehabilitation and community safety.
The issue brings into focus Australia’s commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which mandate better protections for the rights of children in detention.
National leadership is required, with cooperation from all Australian governments to ensure youth justice systems protect the rights of children, offer them real pathways to rehabilitation, use taxpayer money effectively, and protect the community through lower rates of recidivism.
Commissioner Oscar said: “Prison is no place for children. This approach will only perpetuate the cycle of trauma and youth offending”.
Australia’s National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds recently visited Banksia Hill Detention Centre and said, “This current crisis at Banksia Hill is just the pointy end of the long-term failure of child wellbeing policy and systems in this country.
“These are children in need of care and treatment for complex disabilities and serious mental health problems. Instead of receiving the care they need, these children are incarcerated in harmful conditions with life-long negative impacts on their health, education, and wellbeing.
“Other countries have found ways to support the welfare of children instead of imprisoning them. Australia needs to make our children a national priority.”
Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay said: “The latest crisis at Banksia Hill is sadly not an isolated issue. The problems in our juvenile justice systems are well known and have been highlighted repeatedly over many years. By failing to address these long-standing issues we are failing our children and our communities.”
(21 July, 2022)
Statement by Change the Record National Director Sophie Trevitt
Change the Record is appalled by the decision of the Western Australian Government to send First Nations children to a maximum security adult prison instead of addressing the ‘cruel, inhumane and degrading’ treatment of children in Banksia Hill youth detention centre.
It is these conditions, and government failure to rectify them, that has driven an alarming spike in the number of children attempting suicide and self-harm in that facility over the last two years.
The vast majority of children locked away in Banksia Hill are Aboriginal. State and federal governments can’t claim to be committed to Closing the Gap while they criminalise and abuse First Nations children.
As a community, we must hold adults responsible for their treatment of children under their care. Locking children up in solitary confinement and depriving them of access to family and therapeutic services is never acceptable. Why is it tolerated if it is a government that is perpetrating the harm?
The number of suicide attempts at Banksia Hill detention centre has leaped from two in 2019 to 31 in 2021. The number of self-harm incidents increased from 145 to 320 over the same period.
This is a crisis and it is only a matter of time before a child loses their life because the Government has chosen to punish, rather than support them.
No child belongs in prison. As an immediate, emergency step the Western Australian Government should commit to raising the age to at least 14 years old to get those children out of harm’s way and reduce the pressure in a youth detention system that is clearly in crisis.
Then the Government needs to abandon its failed ‘tough on crime’ response to children who need evidence-based therapeutic support, adequate housing, family support services and care in the community.
Children do not belong in prison, they do not belong in maximum security adult prisons, and they should not be punished for the failures of adults to keep them safe.
(20 July, 2022)
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