- The grandmother of a 15yo detainee at the centre of a Four Corners investigation into youth detention has spoken out
- She fears for her grandson’s life, after a detainee in Unit 18 died following a self-harm incident
- Conditions for detainees appear to have changed following the death
The grandmother of a teenage detainee, who is being held at the same controversial WA detention unit as a boy who died after being found unresponsive in his cell, says she fears for her grandson’s life.
Footage of the woman’s 15-year-old grandson being “folded up” by guards at the Banksia Hill Youth Detention Centre last year prompted a ban on the restraint technique in the state.
The teenager, who the ABC is calling Steve, is now detained at Unit 18 at the maximum-security Casuarina adult prison.
It’s the same facility 16-year-old Cleveland Dodd was remanded in when guards found him unresponsive after a self-harm incident in the early hours of October 12.
Cleveland was rushed to hospital, where he died a week later.
Steve’s grandmother said her grandson had also attempted to take his own life in his cell just two weeks earlier.
Difficult wait for a call
“We were just waiting for that phone call, basically,” the woman told the ABC.
“It just happened that it was somebody else’s son or grandson, brother, that his family got that phone call, not us.
“My heart really breaks for them.”
The woman has criticised the Department of Justice for their response to her grandson’s most recent suicide attempt.
“His mother rang up because the officers rang her and, you know, demanded that she have a phone call [with her son],” Steve’s grandmother said.
“It took them three days, after they told her, to get my grandson to give his mother a call to say, ‘yeah, I’m still here’.”
Since Unit 18 opened last year, there have been at least 20 attempted suicides within its walls.
Disbelief at lockdown hours
Steve’s family said they attended his sentencing hearing before Children’s Court president Hylton Quail on Friday.
“Apparently he [Judge Quail] gets notice on how many hours these kids are in lockdown,” Steve’s grandmother said.
“When I heard that my grandson was six days straight under 24-hour lockdown I started crying in the court.
“I was in shock, in disbelief … so who else is this happening to?”
The Corrective Services Minister Paul Papalia yesterday insisted all efforts were being made to prevent another suicide in youth detention.
“Look, we’re doing everything possible,” Mr Papalia said.
“For all the families of the detainees who are held in Unit 18 — and Banksia Hill, actually, at the moment — that bereavement and cultural supports for all of the detainees is being afforded.”
Changes at Unit 18
Like all deaths in custody, Cleveland’s will be subject to a coronial inquest.
But the Corruption and Crime Commission has also announced it is investigating an allegation of serious misconduct arising from an “incident” on the date he self-harmed.
“The Commission has taken the unusual step of making a public announcement in relation to this investigation given the extensive reporting, public interest and the seriousness of the incident,” a CCC spokesperson said.
Steve told his family that things seemed different at Unit 18 since that incident. He had been let out of his cell for five hours on the day he called them.
“A lot of people have spoken to him — he doesn’t know who’s from where,” Steve’s grandmother said.
“They just flooded in.”
But the woman, and some other relatives of Unit 18 that ABC has spoken to, are not convinced it will last.
“Once these investigations are finished, and none of these officials are going in anymore, then it’s going to go back to being 23 hours in lockdown,” she said.
“It’s false hope. That’s how I feel.”
The ABC contacted the Department of Justice with questions about the welfare of Unit 18 detainees since the incident involving Cleveland’s last week but did not get a response.