Content warning: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
More people have spoken out about the Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre being on the brink of crisis, despite denials by the office of Corrective Services Minister Bill Johnston that the centre is understaffed.
Reported exclusively by the National Indigenous Times last week, the law firm leading a class action on behalf of current and former detainees, Levitt Robinson Solicitors, wrote to Minister Johnston’s office to demand action on what it called a “inhumane treatment and lack of services” in Banksia Hill.
“Detainees are… being locked in their cells for up to 8 hours a day [during the day] – with no access to services including: education, programs, or psycho-social support. Meals are served through a grille on the door and eaten alone in the cell,” it read.
The letter noted that an inmate had recorded six lockdowns in the span of two-weeks. A lockdown means inmates can’t “leave the cell, no school and meals in cell”.
Levitt Robinson alleged there had been “at least seven attempted suicides” over the few weeks leading up to the October 28 letter, and “countless incidents of serious self-harm”.
The firm stated that despite having full staffing levels on the books, roughly two thirds of the Youth Justice Officers at Banksia Hill “are absent from work on extended stress-related leave, or have resigned, citing intolerable conditions”.
Last week, National Indigenous Times reported that the family of a 15-year-old Banksia Hill detainee who had recently self-harmed were also told of low staff levels.
“They put him straight into the isolation unit. They see a doctor but they don’t see a psychologist or psychiatrist until their usual appointment, which is once a week… While in ISU you are not allowed to make phone calls, there’s constant monitoring. He told me… they do nothing all day,” the boy’s mother said.
“Whenever I ask them what’s going on, they say ‘we don’t have enough staff’.”
Maxine’s* grandson Stephen* is currently an inmate in Banksia Hill. Usually, Maxine and Stephen speak once a day, but she hasn’t been in contact with the 17-year-old in a week since he was placed in the Intensive Support Unit.
She said the centre’s staff don’t give her any information about Stephen’s welfare when she asks.
“They say wait until he rings you. I have to wait until I get a phone call from him. That’s how they work.”
Maxine said that before he stopped calling, Stephen also reported that the centre was short staffed, with few opportunities to play sport or take part in programs and opportunities.
“They can’t do nothing because of the staff. And when they’re understaffed, the kids got to be locked down.”
Dana Levitt of Levitt Robinson said these stories echo what the firm has heard.
“A lot of the staff that are supposed to be there are actually off on workers comp or stress leave,” she said.
“There’s a complete abject failure to provide any sort of psychosocial support for the kids, as a complete abject failure to provide them with basic human rights, like education, access to family.
“The kids are being locked in their cells for up to 10 hours a day at the moment, simply because there’s not enough staff there to let them out.”
Long-time advocates Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos have been gathering testimonies of former Banksia Hill detainees for the class action and spent two months working with children inside the centre in 2020.
“Families who have young ones on the inside are raising concerns to us about lockdowns for long periods, children not getting the outdoor movement that they should and the lockdowns going longer than usual,” Mr Georgatos said.
“We understand that there are more than the usual number of incidents, and children scaling the fences or getting on the roof, protesting and expressing their dissent.”
Ms Krakouer said the detainees need greater psychosocial support.
“Now this place is meant to be about rehabilitation. It’s meant to be about restorative justice. I’m not seeing it, I’m not hearing it, particularly from those that have experienced Banksia Hill. I’m hearing quite the opposite.”
Minister Bill Johnston’s Office has denied claims that the centre is understaffed.
When asked whether the incidence of self-harm at Banksia Hill had fallen or increased in 2021 the Department of Justice provided statistics for the period between July 2018 and July 2020.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said Corrective Services “provides a range of rehabilitation and support services for Banksia Hill Detention Centre detainees”.
“Clinical programs are delivered to young people on an individual or group basis by Senior Programs Officers (SPOs) who work as part of Youth Justice Psychological Services,” they said.
“Clinical programs are relevant to young peoples’ criminogenic needs, responsivity, abilities, and cultural background; and assist them to live in the community without further offending.
“Banksia Hill also provides Aboriginal Welfare Officers to provide onsite support, advocacy and family connection.”
By Sarah Smit
*names have been changed to protect privacy
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