Young people in a WA youth detention centre are facing 21 hour days in their cells following the high profile death of an Indigenous 16-year-old.

Magistrate Michelle Harries, says the extended lock-up times at Banksia Hill Detention Centre were due to staff being transferred to the state’s Unit 18 facility, the controversial youth wing of the adult male maximum-security Casuarina Prison.

Unit 18 was where a young Indigenous man was found unresponsive last month.

Magistrate Harris says Banksia Hill has struggled to attract retain staff but it’s improved in recent months before the diversion.

Yesterday, WA Premier Roger Cook says there is now a higher proportion of guards at unit 18.

“Obviously we have youth custodial officers at Unit 18 but those officers are supplemented by prison officers as well to make sure that we keep everyone safe in that particular facility.

We also know that staffing and workforce constraints are a challenge for our corrections system more generally and particularly in relation to youth custodial officers.”

The Premier says there are efforts underway to recruit more staff for Banksia Hill.

We have around about 70 juvenile detainees at Banksia Hill, and just around about 10, well certainly at the end of last week, 10 detainees at Unit 18.

“So we have a higher proportion of youth custodial officers or guards in relation to Unit 18 but it represents a very small proportion of our overall cohort in detention at the moment.”

It follows what the newly-appointed Corrective Services Commissioner Brad Royce said on Friday.

“Unit 18 is full and I have people waiting to get there.

“When you go in there it is confronting and the officers want to go there because they want to make a difference.”

In a press release last week, Aboriginal Legal Services of Western Australia CEO Wayne Nannup, criticised the government’s handling of Unit 18.

“This government’s failure to safely look after incarcerated children in its care has been catastrophic. To then demonise these children as occurred yesterday in Parliament reveals a government plunging to a new low.

ALSWA has submitted over 70 complaints about the conditions at Unit 18 and Banksia Hill Detention Centre including lockdowns; excessive uses of force; dirty and unhygienic cells; inadequate education, recreation, mental health support, medical treatment and access to legal advice; and inappropriate sexual conduct of staff. 

What we’ve seen is the dehumanizing of these young people and it’s a violation of their human rights. 

The treatment they’ve received is disgraceful and degrading and they’re being treated as second class citizens. Unfortunately these kids have been placed in the ‘too hard basket’. 

It’s unacceptable and has already ended in a tragedy which could and should have been avoided.

This government needs to step up now, and we, like all fair-minded Australians, continue to call for the urgent shut down of Unit 18 at Casuarina’s adult maximum security prison”

13 YARN offers 24/7 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Crisis Support on 13 92 76

Image Credit AAP/Aaron Bunch