Harsh criticism of the treatment of a 15-year-old inmate at Banksia Hill by the head of the juvenile court has highlighted problems at the centre, which the department says is struggling with severe staff shortages.
- The Department of Justice says staffing at the centre, which houses 140 inmates, sometimes drops to less than half of the optimal level
- The Chief Executive says sections of Banksia Hill are closed when teams are understaffed, which can ‘raise the temperature’ among inmates
- Union says center will struggle to attract workers as it is ‘in crisis’
As he sentenced a 15-year-old boy for multiple offenses this week, presiding judge Judge Hylton Quail called the boy’s treatment ‘vile’ and ‘dehumanising’.
The court was told he had been held in the Intensive Supervision Unit (ISU) for a total of 79 days, which Judge Quail described as “solitary confinement”.
“If you want to make a monster,” he said.
Department of Justice chief executive Adam Tomison told Nadia Mitsopoulos on ABC Radio Perth that he had asked his department to look into the matter after the comments.
“I also took a quick look at some of the data we provided [to the court]which I don’t think is particularly well-written,” he said.
“But I’m also not sure we gave the judge the best information about what was going on and whether he was actually out of his cell more often than what was stated in the documents.”
“Very difficult behavior”
Judge Quail described the cell where the teenager was being held as ‘a fishbowl’ and the yard where he was supposed to be allowed to exercise as a ’10 by 20 meter cage’.
Records provided by Banksia Hill to the court showed that for 33 days, including five during the Christmas period last year, the teenager had no time to leave his cell.
Dr Tomison said the ISU was used for two reasons – to monitor young people who were self-harming or at risk of self-harming, or when they were harming other inmates or staff.
“The young people in our care don’t come from good backgrounds,” he said.
“They often come with alcohol and drug problems, cognitive and learning disabilities, mental health issues including self-harm, which is of particular concern.
“Since last year we’ve had a cohort of young people who have exhibited some very challenging behaviors whether it’s bullying others or hurting themselves and trying to deal with that has certainly been difficult. for us.”
“Social Media Contest”
Dr Tomison said a trend had emerged which was exacerbating crime in the community as well as the problems in Banksia Hill.
“There’s like a competition on social media between young people to commit crimes, almost like earning points – a scavenger hunt, almost,” he said.
“It also plays out in Banksia Hill, where you have competitions to do things like climb fences or damage units or attack staff and also, sometimes, self-harm, and that’s incredibly disturbing.”
Assaults on staff and challenging behavior intensified hardship for staff, Dr Tomison said, which in turn led to longer periods of confinement for inmates.
“At the moment it is very difficult to manage all of our treatment programs when a number of young people are acting in different ways,” he said.
“It’s not an easy situation.
Staff shortages lead to blockages
Dr Tomison said the center was facing a severe staff shortage.
“Usually it’s about 60 staff running a shift inside Banksia Hill,” he said.
“Depending on what happens that day, we could be reduced to around 30 people, [which] would be a bad day.
“When we have fewer staff on a particular shift, what we will do is lock particular units at particular times of the day.
Dr Tomison said it was caused in part by assaults inside the center which led to workers filing compensation claims.
He said the department was holding two courses to train more youth guards and intended to hold two more shortly.
He had also called on prison officers from other institutions to help them.
“My own view is that we have… important work to do to ensure that we maintain the appropriate standards of care for all the young people we care for at Banksia Hill,” Dr Tomison said.
Community and Public Sector Union WA secretary Rikki Hendon said members tell her that Banksia Hill is chronically understaffed.
“Last weekend there were 26 staff at Banksia Hill Detention Center to look after all these young people,” Ms Hendon said.
“It’s really desperately dangerous for the staff and for the young people.”
Ms Hendon said staff believed the minimum security level was two youth guards for every eight inmates and that security concerns at Banksia Hill made it difficult to find new workers.
“If you want to attract and retain people, bringing new people into a dangerous crisis center is not really an incentive,” she said.
“Youth guardians don’t just guard the youngsters.
“They’re actually supposed to give them rehab programs and they’re very frustrated that they can’t really do that work.”