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Family of Cleveland Dodd hopes inquest brings justice, overhaul of youth justice system

Rhiannon Clarke -

The family of 16-year-old Cleveland Dodd, who tragically took his own life while in the Unit 18 youth detention facility at Perth's Casuarina Prison, hopes an inquest will result in a thorough overhaul of the justice system. 

In October 2023, Cleveland was discovered in an unresponsive state after inflicting harm upon himself within his cell located in a troubled youth wing of a high-security adult prison during the early hours of the morning.

He was subsequently transported to the hospital in a critical condition, however unfortunately succumbed to his self-inflicted injuries, leading to an outpouring of anger and sorrow within the community.

Present at Friday's pre-inquest press conference were Cleveland's mother, Nadene Dodd, his grandparents, Glenda Nippy and Stuart Dodd, and Aunty Jill Dodd. They voiced their concerns about the deficiencies that ultimately contributed to Cleveland's premature death.

For Mr Dodd he believes the Department of Justice has failed his family and his grandson.

Cleveland is the first child to die in custody in Australia in more than a decade, and the first in WA history.

“Why was he in that cell? Why were the guards watching movies? Was a movie more important than my grandson. I don’t even see my grandson anymore but they could sit around and watch movies?,” Mr Dodd said.

“It hurts…it should never have happened, my grandson or any kid should never be in max security.”

Cleveland’s grandmother said her grandson was on track to turn his life around. 

Glenda Nippy appeared emotional when talking about her grandson. (Image: Rhiannon Clarke)

“He just turned 16, he will never get to be 18, thanks to the justice system for failing him like they did and what they done," Ms Nippy said.

“...At the end of the day someone has to pay for what has happened to our grandson…we’re not just gonna bury him and leave him and forget him. It’s not gonna happen.” 

The investigation is expected to delve deeper into the factors that contributed to Cleveland's death, following the revelations uncovered in a Department of Justice inquiry which exposed numerous alarming shortcomings within the system. 

The allegations include a staff member being asleep at the time of Cleveland's suicide, a broken vent that served as a point for ligature and had remained unfixed for almost a month, and a welfare record of Cleveland on the night of his passing that appeared to have been falsified.

Lawyer Dana Levitt read out a statement on behalf of Cleveland's mother, who was too devastated during this difficult time. 

“My family and I are still dealing with the loss of my son, Cleveland Dodd,” Ms Levitt read.

“The months since passing have been brought with grief, with each and every new detail that comes to light about the night he died or about unity 18 in general."

Nadene Dodd remained quiet and had her head down throughout the entire press conference. (Image: Rhiannon Clarke)

“I’ve become more determined to get justice for Cleveland and for all the other boys sent to that horrible place, children do not belong in our adult prisons.

“The Department of Justice was supposed to keep my boy safe not let him die on their watch, children do not deserve to be ignored but my boy's cries for help fell on deaf ears.”

Ms Levitt emphasises the importance of recognising the only request being made to the Department of Justice is to ensure the wellbeing, safety, and preservation of 18 children.

“These a children who are 100 percent under the Department of Justice, no one else has the capacity to keep them safe, so if you can’t safety house children inside a maximum security adult prison, don’t do it," Ms Levitt said.  

“We aren’t talking about hundreds of people here, we are talking about 18 children."

Ms Dodd is hopeful her son's passing will serve as a catalyst for positive change, leading to a much needed reform in the Western Australian justice system.

Both the system and Ms Dodd’s heart have been shattered for far too long, and she hopes that this tragedy will bring about the necessary transformation.

Family member of Cleveland Dodd at Friday's press conference. (Image: Rhiannon Clarke) 

The initial coronial inquiry in Perth regarding Cleveland's death commences on Wednesday until April 12.

The Dodd family hopes it will bring them justice.

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