ABORIGINAL LEGAL SERVICE OF WA LTD – MEDIA STATEMENT
11 July 2023
SUPREME COURT OF WA ORDERS GOVERNMENT TO COMPLY WITH THE LAW AFTER FINDING FREQUENT USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
Today the Supreme Court of WA has declared that three young people were unlawfully locked in their cells at Banksia Hill and Unit 18 for prolonged periods, amounting to solitary confinement, over a total of 167 days.
The Court has taken the extraordinary step of granting an injunction restraining Department staff from confining young people without appropriate orders and without providing the exercise they’re entitled to.
The cases were filed on behalf of three young Aboriginal people, two male and one female, and argued by barrister Marina Georgiou instructed by the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia Ltd (ALSWA).
Justice Tottle delivered his judgment today and found that the young people were unlawfully locked in their cells in a manner than amounted to solitary confinement over a total of 167 days.
Justice Tottle stated:
Subjecting young people – children – to solitary confinement on a frequent basis is not only inconsistent with the objectives and principles of the Act but also with basic notions of the humane treatment of young people. It has the capacity to cause immeasurable and lasting damage to an already psychologically vulnerable group. Depriving children of the opportunity to socialise by confining them in their cells for long hours is calculated to undermine the development of a sense of social responsibility and frustrate the Act’s objective of rehabilitation.
Justice Tottle found that young people were entitled to exercise outside of their sleeping quarters as it ‘provides a detainee with relief from the oppressive solitude of long hours of confinement which is essential to the preservation of mental health’.
Justice Tottle stated that the frequent solitary confinement amounted to a systemic failure caused by a shortage of qualified staff, inadequate infrastructure and a consequent inability to manage detainees with difficult behavioural problems.
These findings echo those made by the Inspector of Custodial Services in June, when that office found that ‘every element’ of Banksia Hill was failing with ‘young people, staff and a physical environment in acute crisis’.
ALSWA has now submitted over 70 complaints about conditions at the detention centres since December 2021, including: lockdowns; excessive uses of force; dirty and unhygienic cells; inadequate education, recreation, mental health support, medical treatment and access to legal advice; and inappropriate sexual conduct of staff. Many of these complaints have fallen on deaf ears.
CEO, Wayne Nannup said:
‘Banksia Hill and Unit 18 are in crisis. Nothing short of a drastic overhaul of the way things have been done will address the serious, systemic problems at these centres. Banksia Hill and Unit 18 need to be managed in a trauma-informed, culturally safe way with an emphasis on the welfare and rehabilitation of the children there.’
‘These children deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, not confined to their cells for long periods of isolation. They need fresh air, human connection, education and adults to mentor them. If they are provided with these basic things, they will not act out. ALSWA are hopeful that the government has heard the voices of these young people and will take steps to address this crisis now.’