HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [10.07 pm]: Before I speak on the matter I intend to speak on primarily, I also wish to note the passing of Jim McKiernan, whom I met on several occasions. He was certainly a lovely man—just wonderful. I particularly want to pass on my condolences to Jackie and also his son Steve, who used to work for me, and Steve’s wife, Sandy. I know that they are grieving very hard right now and that Jim’s passing will leave a massive hole in their family.
I rise tonight to speak about the findings of the Inspector of Custodial Services’ review of allegations that were made by Amnesty International Australia about ill-treatment at Banksia Hill Detention Centre, which was released last week. Although the Inspector of Custodial Services failed to find evidence to support many of the allegations made by Amnesty International Australia, the inspector’s review raised a number of very concerning issues. The inspector concluded that two young people were probably held in conditions that constitute solitary confinement for around 10 days last year. These two young people were not even let out of their small cells for one hour a day— one hour in 24 hours—over this 10-day period. I want to point out to members that this is completely contrary to international conventions. The young people had very limited contact with other people during this time. At least in the very early days, they had no access to television, radio or any written material and they were not able to access any writing materials. This is far from providing the sort of therapeutic conditions that we know youth justice facilities need to focus on in order to successfully rehabilitate young people. Anyone who has had anything to do with teenage boys can imagine the impact this would have had on these extremely troubled teens.
The review went on to conclude that for around 10 days these two young people were probably being held in conditions that constituted solitary confinement under the Mandela Rules; and, if so, the Department of Corrective Services was also in breach of the Havana Rules and the United Nations Convention against Torture. In his report the Inspector of Custodial Services was also particularly damning about the poor record-keeping practices at Banksia Hill, finding that records were incomplete, inconsistent and confusing. He also talked about a failure to retain CCTV footage for more than 28 days. As a result of this poor record keeping, it is difficult to know exactly what is happening at the detention centre, particularly with regard to the use of confinement and restraint on young people being held in the intensive support unit.
Members, this is absolutely not okay. The department was unable to advise when, why and how often restraints were being used on young people on personal support plans. Without proper records, it is impossible to know why young people are being restrained, remembering that under-18s in Banksia Hill are still children and that, despite any offending, they still have fundamental human rights, including the right to be treated with dignity and respect. We know that Banksia Hill is not fit for purpose and has been unstable for most of the last seven years. That is a direct quote from the report. In 2017, there were 182 incidents of self-harm and five suicide attempts at the detention centre. We know that problems at Banksia have been exacerbated by a lack of alternative placement options for children and young people. The Inspector of Custodial Services again raised the need for alternative options, noting that crisis-care cells, in particular, are unfit for purpose. These cells are stark, counter-therapeutic and too close to multipurpose cells. The inspector also noted that the education, recreation and rehabilitation programs and other activities provided at Banksia Hill continue to be substandard.
Although I acknowledge and welcome indications that there have been some improvements at Banksia Hill over the last year, including a reduction in the number of strip searches from more than 9 000 in 2015 to 2 445 in 2017, this is still too many. Strip searches are ineffective and highly traumatic for children, and a lot of these children have been sexually abused. I hope that the full body scanner trial is successful and that strip searches of children and young people are eliminated completely.
The inspector’s review found that confinement provisions in the Young Offenders Act and associated regulations are dated and inconsistent on basic matters such as out-of-cell time. They do not meet international minimum standards. It is absolutely vital that if we choose to place children and young people in extremely restrictive conditions in maximum-security facilities, we ensure that we have robust governance requirements and protections. Unfortunately, as noted by the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services, the current lack of these requirements and protections makes it difficult to distinguish the lawful application of separation practices from abuse. It has been 20 years since the Young Offenders Act was last reviewed, and that absolutely needs to be a priority.
This is the seventh report on Banksia Hill produced by the OICS in the last six years, and it is clear that something needs to change. I was really appalled, following the release of the review, to hear reports that the Minister for Corrective Services had called on Amnesty International Australia to apologise for the allegations that led to this review being undertaken. Frankly, the Minister for Corrective Services appears to have some pretty misguided priorities, if his reaction to the inspector’s review is to attack Amnesty International Australia. I think the minister should focus on acknowledging and addressing the numerous failings at Banksia Hill that have been identified by the inspector in that exact same report. I urge the government to turn its attention to addressing the serious, long-term problems within our youth justice system.
If we have learnt anything from the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, it is that children and young people are vulnerable and require extra protections. It is absolutely essential for the government to act to address the ongoing problems in youth justice and to ensure that Western Australia’s only youth detention centre is operating with the utmost transparency and accountability, 100 per cent of the time.