Demonstrators gathered outside Banksia Hill Detention Centre Wednesday to call for an end to child imprisonment, and to support the prospective class action being organised on behalf of current and former detainees of the child prison.
Ramon Vida, 23, did two stints in Banksia Hill at age 16 and 17. He told the rally that it was “terrible to see young fellas, little fellas coming in”.
“They get mistreated, they get locked down. I saw fights. It was pretty violent in there… Too many lock downs, not much activities. The only help they gave us was the school they built,” he said.
“It’s not a safe environment. When I went in, they strip searched me, but I had already been strip searched at the police station.”
Ramon said during lockdown the only thing he had to do to pass time was throwing a tennis ball against the wall of his cell, and that being in Banksia Hill was the worst time of his life.
His brother Jayden Vida told the National Indigenous Times he had spoken to a number of former Banksia Hill detainees.
“They need to be treated like kids, not men. If their own mums or dads hurt them it would be assault, but in here they get slammed into the ground – just because they have got a uniform on, it doesn’t give them the right to assault these kids,” he said.
Phoebe Mead said her nephew and young cousin are currently in Banksia Hill.
“What about their mental health? …All the little young kids aren’t old enough to stand up for themselves; their lives matter. This place should be shut down,” she said.
Desmond Blurton from the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee called on the Western Australian government “to ensure the welfare of our kids”.
“We demand that the age of criminal responsibility be lifted immediately from 10 to 15 years. We also call for a ban on all-white juries, following the trial for the murder of JC, rest in peace. And the State Government should implement all the recommendations of the Royal Commission [into Aboriginal deaths in custody] immediately,” he said.
“Our kids should not be being brought up by prison officers. They should be with family, with Elders, so they have a strong sense of identity, a connection with their ancestors and to the land.”
“They are at the developmental stage; their cognitive abilities are still developing… It is the Stolen Generation all over again.”
Mervyn Eades, CEO of the Ngalla Maya Aboriginal Corporation, said “Children are coming out broken, shattered. It’s a vicious cycle”.
“70-80 per cent of them go on to adult institutions… We are talking about children who come from generations of trauma,” he said,
“Our children’s cries for help have fallen on deaf ears for too long. The class action is very welcome, we need reform… Banksia Hill is damaging our children, they come out so angry at the world… it turns into a revolving door. We need to move away from the prison system – and do something else for these kids.”
Whadjuk Noongar activist Marianne McKay noted that after the incidents in Banksia Hill of 2013, not enough was done to find out what sparked what authorities described as a “riot”.
“There have been many allegations of abuse… and there is no accountability, and no transparency… You have a lot of kids here [in detention] in the Department of Child Protection – why are they ending up in Banksia Hill?” McKay asked.
“We have to take civil action because these kids need to know someone is standing up for them… Our kids are so talented, they want to have careers, they have goals, dreams they want to achieve.”
McKay said that raising the age of criminal responsibility was an important step but was not enough in isolation.
“Some of these kids do need help… These kids are trying to find themselves and they are growing up in a system where they are losing their culture.”
Lawyer and law academic Dr Hannah McGlade said she was at the protest to support the class action being organised by Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos from the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project.
“This state is incarcerating so many Aboriginal children and youth, and this has been condemned by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Children even younger than 10 are being processed by police…. 54 countries on Earth have told the government of Western Australia to stop,” she said.
Dr McGlade said that funds poured into detention systems would be better spent in justice reinvestment.
Megan Krakouer told the crowd: “this is a broken system which is hurting our people and killing our people”.
“[Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians] Ken Wyatt can amend the Act so Aboriginal Medical Services can come into these places and provide the right and appropriate care.”
Krakouer noted children leaving detention are often ill-equipped to return to society, some have only a prison ID on them, instantly creating prejudice and barriers when they try to get their lives back on track. She noted that one 16 year-old she is aware of has been in Banksia Hill 35 times.
Krakouer was the final speaker before the protest marched to the doors of Banksia Hill.
A State Government spokesperson told the National Indigenous Times that the government has implemented a number of early intervention programs to support Indigenous youth, and acknowledged the vital importance of Indigenous leadership.
“The Target 120 program works with young people who are at risk of becoming repeat offenders… A number of sites are being led by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to prioritise culturally appropriate responses to overrepresentation of Aboriginal young people in the youth justice system,” they said.
“Target 120 Kununurra [is] being led by MG Corporation… More than half of the program’s participants have had no further contact with police since joining the program. Of the current active participants, 90 per cent are now enrolled in mainstream school, alternative education, TAFE or boarding school.”
A Department of Justice spokesperson told National Indigenous Times the Department “provides a range of rehabilitation and support services for detainees” and former detainees, adding that “health, rehabilitative, recreational, cultural and educational programs” are delivered by staff and externally contracted providers.
They said Banksia Hill “also provides Aboriginal Welfare Officers to provide onsite support, advocacy and family connection”.
By Giovanni Torre