- Hylton Quail says the boy received no rehabilitation in Unit 18
- Judge Quail said he is therefore more dangerous now than when he went into prison
- He says those in charge of Unit 18 have been ignoring court rulings
The president of WA’s Children’s Court has again taken aim at Unit 18 – a controversial juvenile facility within an adult maximum-security prison – labelling it responsible for a young offender being released into the community more dangerous than when he went in.
Hylton Quail made the comments last Friday during sentencing of a 15-year-old who was being kept inside Unit 18 while on remand.
His remarks came a day after 16-year-old Cleveland Dodd died in hospital, one week on from attempting to take his own life while detained inside the now notorious facility.
“It does seem though that those who administer Unit 18 do so with impunity,” Judge Quail said in his sentencing.
“Those conditions in Unit 18 and the way that you have been treated whilst you have been in custody have been of no rehabilitative effect.
“You have therefore been released into the community more dangerous than when you went in.”
The boy was being sentenced for a number of serious offences including aggravated burglary and stealing along with several offences committed against guards, staff and property while detained.
‘Brutalised and alienated’
The teenager has a criminal history going back three years and has spent some time in Banksia Hill and Unit 18 – his most recent stint in Unit 18 having started in August, during which time Judge Quail said he had basically been locked in his cell for 22 to 23 hours every single day.
“As this court has said as long ago as February of last year, when you cage children and treat them like animals, you should expect when the door is opened that they will behave in that way, which is not to excuse what you do,” he told the 15-year-old directly.
“There is no doubt … that those conditions in Unit 18 put you in a group of boys … who are subject to by far and away the worst conditions of incarceration of any group in this state, worse than any adult prison.
“It is clear that you have been brutalised and alienated and in turn, you have reacted against those who are responsible — directly responsible for looking after you in the detention centre.”
Judiciary being ‘ignored’
Judge Quail said it was very significant that continuing lockdowns came after a court ruling in July of this year deemed them unlawful.
“What that means from my perspective, is that those who were in charge of Unit 18 – not the guards who are working with you, the people in charge of unit 18 – continue to ignore what this court has said,” he said.
“I am lost for words that nothing has changed since then and the situation in Unit 18 seems to be getting progressively worse.
“And that since that decision (in July), you have been confined in your cell in the way that you have, and in particular on those six days I have identified, for 24 hours on each of those days.”
Teen receives lighter sentence
Judge Quail sentenced the boy to a total of 14 months in detention, backdated to April.
“Which is a lot less than you would have got were it not for those factors, particularly the way you have been treated while in custody,” he said.
“I am also satisfied that much of that time in custody amounts to a form of extrajudicial and unlawful punishment for your behaviour [while detained].”
The grandmother of the 15-year-old boy had spoken to the ABC about how she feared for her grandson’s life if he remained in Unit 18, after he recently attempted to take his own life in his cell.
Unit 18 was initially established within the adult maximum-security Casuarina prison last year as a temporary place to house what the government has labelled a “difficult cohort” of young offenders from the state’s only juvenile facility, Banksia Hill Detention Centre.
Over that time, there have been at least 20 attempted suicides and 350 incidents of self-harm.
Judge Quail has mentioned the conditions at Unit 18 on multiple occasions during sentencing since it was established, including when he issued a contempt of court warning to the state government for housing juveniles in an adult facility.
Cleveland’s death last week, believed to be the first death in youth custody in WA since modern record-taking began in 1980, has led to growing calls to shut Unit 18.
Premier disagrees with judge
Responding to questions about the sentence, WA Premier Roger Cook said on Tuesday that he disagreed with Judge Quail’s assessment.
“We understand the sentiment that has been expressed by the Honourable Judge, but it’s important that we understand also the pressures of keeping our staff safe, keeping the detainees safe, and getting on a better pathway,” he said.
Mr Cook pointed to staffing issues as a key area of concern and said he and Corrective Services Minister Paul Papalia were committed to bringing in more youth custodial officers and prison guards.
He also repeated his comments that he wanted to see Unit 18 closed “as soon as we can.”
But he again insisted it could not be closed until further work was undertaken at Banksia Hill, because removing some detainees to Unit 18 had helped improve conditions for others at the main facility.