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Prison Inspector calls for overhaul of WA juvenile detention system

Dechlan Brennan -

WA's prisons inspector has joined a chorus of critics of the state's juvenile detention system calling for an urgent overhaul in the wake of footage showing footage of guards manhandling a suicidal 16-year-old detainee.

The West Australian reported on Monday the footage obtained from body-worn cameras and CCTV at Banksia Hill and Casuarina's Unit 18 in 2023 showed the boy being shackled in chains and left in a cell after his clothes were cut off and replaced with a gown.

The state's Inspector of Custodial Services Eamon Ryan, who has been heavily critical of Bankia Hill in the past, said the vision was "incredibly traumatic".

"The footage that we saw with guards in riot gear, jumping on young people - and they got to the stage where they feel they need to do that so it's safe for themselves, and it's safe for the young person - that's incredibly traumatic," Mr Ryan told The West Australian.

He noted whilst he understood there was sometimes a need to prevent injuries for inmates by intervening physically, he nonetheless said if that was the final option, "we've run out of ideas".

Mr Ryan said a justice summit "may well be a worthy consideration" to help discuss the issues which have plagued detention WA, whilst also backing calls from former Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan, and former Children's Court president Denis Reynolds, who called for a public inquiry.

WA's justice system has come under extensive scrutiny, only exacerbated after the tragic death of 16-year-old Indigenous boy Cleveland Dodd at Casuarina's Unit 18 in October.

Mr Ryan said if Cleveland's death wasn't a signal for drastic reform, nothing would be.

In the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Service (OICS) annual report in November, it noted "by far our biggest concern" had been both Unit 18 and Banksia Hill.

"There has been a significant number of critical incidents including serious self-harm and attempted suicides, worrying staff assaults, fires, prolonged roof ascents, and several riots," the report stated.

"Adding to this is the significant shortage of custodial staff which has resulted in excessive time in cell for the young people."

In December, Director General of Western Australia's Department of Justice, Adam Tomison, stood down, with Noongar academic Hannah McGlade saying he had "unacceptably high levels" of Indigenous incarceration.

On Monday, Mr Ryan said there needed to be greater transparency, with data available publicly rather than being obtained through parliamentary process - often slowly. He added he supported a stand-alone juvenile detention centre with higher levels of security - like an adult facility - but told The West Australian there was "no excuse" for the mistreatment of inmates.

Mr Ryan also agreed with the actions WA's Children's Court president Hylton Quail, who released a 17-year-old and noted in his sentencing remarks that the boy had spent 23 out of 34 days in solitary confinement and shouldn't be held in Unit 18, which he labelled a "a barbaric dungeon".

"The concerns by Judge Quail are valid," Mr Ryan said, as reported by The West Australian.

"We just can't keep locking kids up for 20 to 23 hours a day and then expecting them to behave."

Judge Quail has also been a fierce opponent of Unit 18, saying in the wake of Cleveland Dodd's death: "Those who administer Unit 18 do so with impunity".

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