- WA premier Mark McGowan said the behaviour of the youths was ‘a form of terrorism’ but advocates are concerned about the treatment of young people in the facility
- Inmates escaped their accommodation after a detainee threatened a custodial officer with a brick, McGowan said Wednesday.
- Since February 2022, ALSWA says it has sent 57 complaint letters on behalf of dozens of young people about the conditions at the facility, raising concerns of excessive lockdowns, sexually inappropriate behaviour by officers, and officers using “degrading and unprofessional language”.
Authorities have regained control at Perth’s Banksia Hill Detention Centre after dozens of rioting juveniles allegedly burned buildings, threatened staff and tried to escape the troubled facility.
The major disturbance started after a number of detainees breached their cells about 8.30pm on Tuesday and gained access to the grounds of the centre before climbing on to the roof.
Banksia Hill, a juvenile facility for offenders aged 10-17 years, has been the subject of criticism, with Western Australia’s Aboriginal Legal Service (ALSWA) labelling the treatment of children in the facility as “child abuse”.
Western Australian premier, Mark McGowan, said detainees lit fires in several accommodation blocks and caused extensive damage to the facility, where about 90 youths are detained.
Inmates escaped their accommodation after a detainee threatened a custodial officer with a brick, McGowan said Wednesday.
He said the officer retreated to a safe place to escape and as she did a master key got lodged in a door.
“The detainee took the key and then unlocked a range of accommodation units and cells around Banksia Hill.”
McGowan said more than half of the centre’s inmates left their units and cells once they were unlocked.
“The authorities then declared there was an emergency … (and) scrambled various resources to try and contain the situation,” he said.
This included the special operations group and firefighters who were supported by a large police contingent including a helicopter and dog unit.
“A range of (detainees) then tried to stop the fire trucks from getting access to put out fires,” McGowan said.
Others threw debris at staff and authorities from the roof and rammed a motorised buggy used in the centre into gates and doors.
“Fortunately none of the staff were injured,” he said. “A range of them (also) started tying sheets together to try and climb the fences but fortunately the accommodation is secure and there was no prospect of them escaping.”
McGowan said the behaviour of the youths was “a form of terrorism” and activists should not make excuses for them.
“Obviously, it’s total and utterly unacceptable,” he said on Wednesday.
“It’s a form of terrorism they are engaged in and they are behaving in an appalling way, with no respect for anyone.”
But ALSWA, which is representing clients in Banksia Hill in legal action against the McGowan government over claims children were held in cells for over 23 hours a day, said it was concerned about the deteriorating mental health of young detainees.
“ALSWA is deeply concerned about the inhumane treatment of these young people. As judge [Hylton] Quail, president of the Children’s Court, has noted, these lockdowns amount to a form of ‘child abuse’,” ALSWA’s chief executive, Wayne Nannup, said.
Since February 2022, ALSWA says it has sent 57 complaint letters on behalf of dozens of young people about the conditions at the facility, raising concerns of excessive lockdowns, sexually inappropriate behaviour by officers, and officers using “degrading and unprofessional language”.
ALSWA claimed it has received no “substantive” responses in relation to their concerns apart from professional standards correspondence relating to individual staff.
In a statement, a WA Department of Justice spokesperson said in regards to claims of staff misconduct, the Department of Justice’s People, Culture and Standards division always contacts complainants “advising receipt of the complaint and arrangements are made to speak to the young person involved”.
“If complaints are upheld, disciplinary action may be taken and/or the matter referred to an external authority. The outcomes of complaints are provided to the complainant and the reasons for the decision explained if requested,” the spokesperson said.
“In addition, the Executive Director of People, Culture and Standards meets regularly with representatives of the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA and provides progress updates about complaints.”
The premier said he would meet other members of his government, the Department of Justice and the police commissioner to discuss tougher punishment for juvenile offenders.
He also said some of the inmates would need to be moved to adult facilities because of the significant damage at Banksia Hill.
In February a guard suffered a suspected fractured skull after being hit by objects allegedly thrown by detainees.