Politicians and human rights advocates say they’re “appalled” after the Western Australian government said it would send children, some as young as 14-years-old, to a maximum-security adult prison, just south of Perth.
On Tuesday, the state’s Department of Justice Corrective Services said 20 kids would be transferred from Banksia Hill Detention Centre, a youth detention facility, to a newly built 256-bed unit within the state’s maximum-security Casuarina Prison for adults.
According to the department, the group of children had proven to be a “difficult cohort”, who were “causing significant damage” and “disruption” at the Banksia Hill facility, and would be transferred so that officers could better manage their “complex needs”.
In the view of the Department of Justice Corrective Services, the kids are too unruly, too violent, and too difficult to tame under current settings. So much so that the department has insisted that only transferring them to an adult prison environment would allow other detainees to return to their “normal education”, programs, and recreation activities.
Corrective services commissioner, Mike Reynolds, said in a statement on Tuesday that the facility had been forced to call on the help of a “constant stream” of contractors to keep up with the “rate of damage” inflicted on the facility by children, which he says has seen 30 of the facility’s 260 cells “unfit for use”.
Human rights advocates, legal experts, and even federal MPs, however, say these kids have only become a product of the inhumane living conditions imposed upon them.
The Banksia Hill facility, where the 20 children will be held, was only recently the subject of a report handed down in April by the state’s prisons watchdog, which described the way detainees are routinely handled in custody as “cruel, inhuman and degrading.”
The watchdog wasn’t alone in lashing the facility’s management. Just a few months earlier, the head of the Perth Children’s Court condemned the “dehumanising” detention of one teenage offender held at the facility. In February, he warned: “If you want to make a monster, this is the way you do it.”
The judge, Hylton Quail, made the comments during a sentencing hearing of a teenage offender for about a dozen assaults on officers at the Banksia Hill Detention Centre. All of the offences, bar one, took place while the teenager was in the facility’s “Intensive Supervision Unit”—a small cell some have likened to solitary—where he was held for 79 of the 98 days he was in custody.
Judge Quail described the cell as a “fish bowl”.
During the same month, the WA Greens were similarly incensed, when chronic staff shortages at the facility saw youth detainees, some as young as 10-years-old, put in repeated lockdowns for more than 22 hours a day.
After the state government announced its plans to transfer children out of the facility to a maximum-security adult’s prison this week, Greens senator for Western Australia, Dorinda Cox, said these children are shouldering the blame for what is, in essence, a government failure to uphold its duty of care.
“It says so much about the horrific conditions that these children are being kept in, that this situation has occurred. To describe these children as ‘difficult’ completely misses the point—no child should be in prison in the first place, let alone sent to a maximum security adult prison,” Cox said.
“These children are being traumatised as we speak—keeping them in these settings is akin to torture.”
The Greens’ national spokesperson for Justice, David Shoebridge, said the move only adds to a “growing case” for Federal action to keep children out of “these inhumane and abusive prisons”.
“Putting children in the too hard basket, locking them up in adult prison complexes, will exacerbate trauma and cause lasting harm,” Shoebridge said.
“These actions are a breach of Australia’s international obligations to respect the rights of children and protect them from harm,” he said.
“Doing nothing in the face of these systemic failures makes the Federal government complicit not just in WA but in the Northern Territory, Queensland and all other states and territories that continue to imprison young kids.”
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