Problems at Western Australia’s Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre

Children and adolescents recently destroyed most of Western Australia’s juvenile detention centre, with then Premier Mark McGowan dismissing the mental disabilities of the majority of detainees as “no excuse” for their actions. More than half the centre’s juvenile detainees broke out of their cells and began damaging buildings and lighting fires about 8.30pm. Many of the detainees then climbed on to the centre’s roof, where they threw debris at firefighting crews trying to extinguish the fires. The riot ended late the next morning only when armoured special operations group officers stormed the roof of the prison. The riot began when a juvenile detainee “got keys and basically went around and unlocked every cell in the centre”. Female staff supervising all-male units were heard to radio for help. Male detainees broke into the girls’ unit, called Yeeda, and unlocked three girls who joined the riot.

The breach of the girls’ unit is considered a disaster because some of the male youths at Banksia Hill are sex offenders. The detainees were seen driving around the detention centre in a buggy, setting fires and crashing into gates and doors. The riot is the most significant since unrest became an almost daily feature at Banksia Hill more than a year ago. The detention centre is now unfit to hold the juvenile detainees. An angry Mr. McGowan said the rioters had engaged in “a form of terrorism”. He attacked advocacy groups that have been calling for better treatment of detainees. “There’s no excuse to set fires, attack people, block fire trucks coming in to put out fires … The detainees have access to education, psychological support, recreation, on any given day. They need to grab that opportunity,” he said.

“The people who make excuses are not helping them … What people should be saying to them is ‘This is the opportunity to turn your life around. You’re in here because you did something that was wrong. Now take the opportunity that this provides as a circuit-breaker’.” The Premier was to meet with the police commissioner and senior Department of Justice employees, and he said he would look to see what sort of “tough love” measures could be put in place. While a landmark study by the Telethon Kids Institute previously found that nine out of 10 juveniles in Banksia Hill had at least one form of severe Neurodisability, with more than one in three diagnosed with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Mr McGowan dismissed those impairments as “excuse-making”. “There is a responsibility here on the part of the detainees, on the part of their families and on the part of activists to hold the detainees accountable,” he said.

Department of Justice media statements confirmed that a “large” number of buildings and other infrastructure were damaged. Some rioters, the department said, were likely to face police charges. Prominent advocates used the latest riot to renew their calls for an overhaul of the way young offenders are treated in WA. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar said children in Banksia Hill needed to be cared for “in a trauma-informed, culturally appropriate way”. Detainees not involved in the unrest were moved to a secure area, under staff supervision.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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