Children held in a NSW youth justice facility have been issued second hand underwear, in a practice the prisons watchdog describes as unhygienic and unacceptable. 

The used underpants issue was one of several concerns highlighted by NSW’s Inspector of Custodial Services in a report published on Tuesday, following the watchdog’s visits to the state’s six youth justice centres in 2019. 

At the same facility, Acmena Youth Justice Centre in South Grafton, children and young people were held in confinement without mattresses and bedding, which the Inspector says is possibly illegal. 

Officers also switched off water in confinement rooms, forcing young people to ask for water to be turned on so they could flush the toilet. Sometimes officers also removed toilet paper from the rooms. 

“Young people must ask staff for toilet paper and a staff member was observed by the inspection team measuring toilet paper to give to a young person in a holding room,” the report reads.

“This treatment of a child is degrading.” 

Acmena has a particularly high proportion of Aboriginal residents. At the time of the July 2019 inspection, over two thirds of young people were Aboriginal but it is not uncommon for 85 per cent to be Aboriginal.

The facility also had “visibly dirty and foul smelling” holding rooms, which had been used to confine children despite being “unacceptable” to hold young people in for even a short period of time. A shower area was not clean and did not meet an acceptable standard of hygiene. 

Though the centre mainly holds males, young women and girls are sometimes held at Acmena for short periods of time. The toilet in one holding room for girls was visible from the officer’s room, the inspector found, recommending a privacy screen. 

The hygiene issues had been addressed by the time of a follow-up visit in May 2020, the inspector says, and the centre manager issued a direction for the practice of issuing second hand underwear to stop when it was flagged with them. 

A number of centres had reduced the amount of food being provided to young people after being directed to save costs by Youth Justice NSW, the report says.

At Acmena, the menu did not meet the recommended standard for food and nutrition after staff reduced the amount of meat in some meals. 

The report also raised concerns over staff carrying out illegal, routine partial body searches because they were unaware that the laws and policies about searching children in facilities had changed.

“Overall, staff were very engaged throughout the inspection process and we spoke to many staff that perform an outstanding job in challenging circumstances,” Inspector of Custodial Services, Fiona Rafter, said in a statement.

“However, we also found a number of centres where staff needed additional training. It is important that YJNSW continues to invest in staff and to provide ongoing training to ensure the safety and wellbeing of staff and young people at YJCs.” 

Ms. Rafter’s office inspects youth justice facilities every three years, looking at the safety and wellbeing of young people in custody, as well as the security and management of every Centre in the state.