Banksia Hill Detention Centre and Unit 18 complaint letters see much needed focus on kids in prison
22 May 2023
Last week I rose in the WA Parliament to discuss the ongoing youth justice crisis in WA and to draw attention to a series of 57 complaint letters written by the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA on behalf of children detained at Banksia Hill Detention Centre and Unit 18.
It was a hard speech to give but I hope it changes what is happening in our youth detention centres and helps move them from places where trauma is inflicted to places of healing and rehabilitation.
Below is some of the media that the letters rightfully received. The full speech is at the bottom of this post:
Speech to Parliament
- Thank you, President
- I rise tonight to discuss the ongoing youth justice crisis in WA and draw this house’s attention to a series of 57 complaint letters written by the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA on behalf of children detained at Banksia Hill Detention Centre and Unit 18.
- Firstly, I would like to acknowledge Alice Barter of the Civil Law and Human Rights Unit at ALSWA who is sitting in the public gallery, as well as all the other lawyers who have been working tirelessly to protect the basic human rights of the children as young as 10 who are detained at Banksia Hill and Unit 18
- Alice and the ALSWA team are in the midst of yet another litigation against the State Government in the Supreme Court for the inhumane and unlawful treatment of kids in youth detention in WA.
- These people are far more than just lawyers – day in and day out they are supporting some of our state’s most vulnerable kids through serious trauma, attempted suicide and feelings of despair, and otherwise just trying to make sure these kids feel heard and cared about.
- I can only imagine the level of mental and emotional strength it takes to do that kind of job and I thank ALSWA and the dozens of other non-profits, lawyers, judges, former and current public servants, doctors, and other advocates in WA that are fighting for the basic human rights of kids that are caught up in the horrific situation at Banksia Hill and Unit 18.
- As mentioned, I am speaking tonight to draw attention to complaint letters that have been made on behalf of young people regarding their treatment at Banksia Hill and Unit 18, the vast majority of which have not been responded to or received outcomes.
- I first raised the issue of these complaint letters during the Estimates Committee’s 21-22 Department of Justice Annual Report hearing in February.
- At the time, I had been made aware of 31 complaint letters.
- I am very sorry to say that, since those Annual Report hearings a few months ago, that number has now ballooned out and I am now holding 57 complaint letters in my hands.
- These letters detail some pretty horrific treatment of young people at Banksia Hill and Unit 18, including:
- ongoing lockdowns and solitary-confinement like conditions;
- sexually inappropriate behavior by officers;
- excessive use of force such as hog tying and kids being hit over the head;
- young people being forced to sleep in wet clothes or bedding, or wear clothing stained in other people’s blood;
- officers using degrading, sexualized, and unprofessional language;
- derelict conditions in cells;
- And other extremely serious matters
Examples from the letters
- There are 257 pages worth of these complaints here, so I of course cannot read out all of them, but I want the Members in this place to hear some of the things in these letters.
- In a letter dated 8 February 2023 addressed to Christine Ginbey, the Acting Deputy Commissioner for Women and Young People, there is a series of complaints from a young female on remand at Banksia Hill.
- Some of the notable parts of this letter read:
“Two male YCOs … picked up chairs and hit [the child] on the left and right sides of her head at the same time with the two chairs. She had lumps on her head as a result. She was then placed in handcuffs and her legs were folded up behind her into a ‘hog tie’ or ‘folding up’ position. She was then dragged along the floor whilst restrained.”
- In the same complaint is details numerous instances of sexual harassment and misconduct by YCOs. The letter reads:
“During her most recent admission in BHDC, [the child] asked [officer] to open her cell door. He moaned inappropriately (sexually) at her which made her scared. If [the child] screams, [officer] will often say things such as ‘I love it when you scream.’”
- In a different letter on behalf of a different young person from 21 February 2023, it reads that
“[The child] threatened to hurt himself and YCOs ripped his clothes off and left him naked in the cell with a rip proof gown, which in his distress [the child] did not put on … [The child] was left naked in the cell from about 2:30pm on 30 January 2023 until his visit with [his lawyer] the following morning … His mattress was covered in OC Spray and was ‘itchy’. As such, he slept in the shower and he had only a rip proof pillow and no bedding. He was very cold all night.”
- In a different letter from the 22 February 2023, it read that
“[The child] is often left in the same clothes for days without being provided fresh ones. In around mid-January 2023, [the child] spent two weeks in the same clothes, being denied fresh clothing by the staff.”
- I will run out of time soon and wish I could share more of the dozens and dozens of horrific anecdotes from these letters, but I hope the Members and particularly the Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries in this place are listening to just how serious these complaints are.
- The crisis at Banksia Hill Detention Centre and Unit 18 is getting worse, not better, and frankly, so long as this state continues with business as usual, it is only a matter of time before there is a horrific and tragic and completely avoidable death of a child in custody.
- The refusal of this State Government, and particularly the Premier, to accept that there is something seriously wrong with the way the State Government is running youth detention right now and address this issue like the massive public health crisis that it is is causing extreme harm to children and our communities, particularly First Nations ones.
- I know we’re in the business of politics, but none of us should be dismissing well-documented and researched neurological disabilities like FASD as “excuses” or labeling predominantly Aboriginal children as “terrorists” when they are enduring worse conditions than most farm animals in this state.
- No child, no matter how bad their behavior is, deserves to be treated this way.
- WA can and must do better
- I am running out of time now but this is really important and I wanted to make this statement tonight mostly for the young people at Banksia Hill and Unit 18 and to let them know that they are not forgotten about, and that their stories are being heard in this place.
I thank my fellow Members for listening tonight and hope you take the time to read some of these complaints. I seek leave to table these letters.