The Supreme Court of Western Australia has declared three young people were unlawfully locked in their cells at Banksia Hill and Unit 18 detention centre for prolonged periods amounting to solitary confinement for over 167 days.
The Court has taken the steps to grant an injunction which restrains department staff from confining young people without the appropriate orders.
The cases were filed on the behalf of three young Aboriginal people, two male and one female, and represented by barrister Marina Georgiou instructed by the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (ALSWA).
Justice Tottle delivered his judgement on Tuesday and told the court the department’s actions were inhumane.
“Subjecting young people – children – to solitary confinement on a frequent basis is not only inconsistent with the objectives and principles of the Act but also with basic notions of the humane treatment of young people.
It has the capacity to cause immeasurable and lasting damage to an already psychologically vulnerable group.
Depriving children of the opportunity to socialise by confining them in their cells for long hours is calculated to undermine the development of a sense of social responsibility and frustrate the Act’s objective of rehabilitation.”
Justice Tottle said by confining the young people the department was restricting their entitlements to exercise outside which is “essential to the preservation of mental health.”
The Justice added the frequent solitary confinement was the result of a systemic failure caused by staff shortages, inadequate infrastructure and an inability to manage detainees with difficult behavioral issues.
ASLWA has submitted over 70 complaints about the conditions at the detention centres since December 2021.
These submissions include complaints regarding 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.
In a statement released on Tuesday, ALSWA says the complaints “have fallen on deaf ears.”
The legal service’s CEO Wayne Nannup says drastic change is needed.
“Banksia Hill and Unit 18 are in crisis. Nothing short of a drastic overhaul of the way things have been done will address the serious, systemic problems at these centres.
Banksia Hill and Unit 18 need to be managed in a trauma-informed, culturally safe way with an emphasis on the welfare and rehabilitation of the children there.
These children deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, not confined to their cells for long periods of isolation.
They need fresh air, human connection, education and adults to mentor them.
If they are provided with these basic things, they will not act out.
ALSWA are hopeful that the government has heard the voices of these young people and will take steps to address this crisis now.”