- Two teenagers were taken to hospital after self-harming at Unit 18 over the weekend
- Relatives of both have hit out at government claims the unit is safe
- The mother of one of the boys has called for urgent change at the facility
Relatives of two Western Australian teenage detainees taken to hospital over the weekend after self-harming in their cells at Casuarina Prison’s Unit 18 say they are scared for their lives.
A report highlighting failures of staff to respond to suicide threats of 16-year-old Cleveland Dodd – who died after he was found unconscious at the same juvenile detention unit last month – has only elevated their concerns.
About a month after Cleveland told officers he would take his own life at Unit 18 – and weeks after he died in hospital – the WA Corrective Services Minister Paul Papalia conceded staff had failed him that night.
“It is essential we take whatever steps we can now to create the safest environment possible … and ensure a similar tragedy cannot occur again ,” Mr Papalia said on Friday morning.
But about an hour before Mr Papalia came out to address the media that day, another teenage detainee was being rushed to hospital after attempting suicide at the very same unit.
The 17-year-old’s grandmother — and his only carer — received a dreaded phone call that day.
“They told me that he got admitted into hospital because of what he’s done in his cell,” the boy’s frantic grandmother told the ABC.
“I was worried and said, ‘Well please, can you update me … can you ring me, let me know if he’s okay?'”
The elderly Carnarvon woman said she was only updated on his wellbeing four days after the incident, when he was released from hospital and brought back to Unit 18.
She said she was frustrated with the lack of communication from authorities.
“I don’t get a phone call from him to know what’s going on,” the woman said.
“I’m in the dark, I don’t know what’s going on.”
Detainee says he’s treated like ‘an animal’
The mother of another Unit 18 detainee says her son was also taken to hospital over the weekend after self-harming in his cell.
She says she only found out about it after the 16-year-old was brought back into the detention facility and called her.
In an audio recording of their conversation – provided to the ABC by the boy’s mother – he describes being treated like “an animal”.
He tells her that staff “just stood there and watched me” when he self-harmed and that it took four hours to take him to the hospital to stitch up his wounds.
“Safest place? They’ve had a death in there,” the mother of the 16-year-old boy says.
“How can that be the safest place for a child?”
The Department of Justice said it could not provide a welfare update on those two detainees due to privacy reasons.
When asked about the allegation staff members “watched” as the teen self-harmed, a Department of Justice spokesperson said it would not comment on individual cases but that “young people are monitored and appropriate interventions are provided by staff”.
“There are medical and psychological services at both detention facilities and young people are transported to hospital when their particular treatment needs cannot be met onsite,” the spokesperson said.
The department released a statement after being asked by the ABC to provide figures around how many more suicide attempts there had been at the unit following Cleveland’s death.
“The Department of Justice formally reports verified Corrective Services data in its Annual Report and to the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services, in addition to the oversight of other governance agencies and processes,” it said.
“In the interests of the small number of young people in detention at Unit 18, the Department is not publicly releasing information that may identify individuals or impact their future behaviours.”
Staff ‘resting or watching movies’
Last week, an ABC investigation looking at the minutes before Cleveland was found in his cell, uncovered a litany of errors, which failed to prevent the teenager’s attempt to end his life and compromised the emergency response.
Mr Papalia largely confirmed those details on Friday morning, including that the camera inside Cleveland’s cell was covered with toilet paper and that the boy’s attempts to ask for help were not acted upon right away.
He also revealed staff were “resting or watching movies” on the night.
Despite growing calls for the government to shut down Unit 18, the state has insisted it is not possible at the moment.
The facility was set up last year as a temporary space to house what the government has labelled a dangerous cohort of detainees who would otherwise be held at the Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre.