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Guards didn't want to work at 'powder keg' Unit 18

Aaron Bunch -

The unliveable youth wing of an adult prison was a 'pariah', chaotic and set up to fail, an inquest into the first juvenile to die in detention in Western Australia has been told.

Cleveland Dodd was found unresponsive after harming himself inside his cell in Unit 18 in Perth's Casuarina Prison in the early hours of October 12, 2023.

The 16-year-old made eight threats to self-harm and was in an agitated state in the hours before he was discovered by staff and transported to hospital where he died eight days later.

Veteran youth custodial officer Daniel Torrijos told the coroner about a string of failures that plagued the troubled unit the night he found Cleveland motionless in his cell.

These included him not carrying a radio when he went to check on Cleveland, which was required under Department of Justice policy and left him unable to communicate with the control room.

The unit's main prison radio was also off, leaving inmates and staff unaware of a planned power outage at the prison, which further distressed the teen before he self-harmed.

Asked why staff didn't know about the power cut Mr Torrijos said: "It wasn't uncommon and no one really wanted Unit 18 to be there".

"I'm pretty sure there was no notification ... no one rang," he said in what appeared to be a reference to the prison's management team.

Mr Torrijos, who was well-liked by the detainees, defended the time it took him to walk to and from a manager's office to retrieve the keys to Cleveland's cell door after seeing he was in trouble through a window.

"I was on a mission to get the keys, it might not have looked like I was going quick but it's as quick as I can go," he said in reference to CCTV footage showing his movements.

"I've got arthritic knees ... I can't run."

The court heard that after Mr Torrijos returned to Cleveland's cell and opened the door he lowered the boy onto the floor and with the help of other staff attempted to resuscitate him until paramedics arrived 24 minutes later.

Mr Torrijos also said Unit 18 was not prepared for youth inmates when it was opened in 2022, and a lot of his colleagues did not want to work there because they knew it was "chaos" at the facility.

"It was set up to fail and that's how it was perceived by a lot of officers," he said.

"Everyone didn't feel that positive that it was going to be successful at Unit 18."

Mr Torrijos said when he was transferred to Unit 18, about a year before Cleveland died, it had recently been "destroyed" by the detainees and was a "powder keg" that continued to experience major incidents in the months after, including fires and breakouts.

The cells were "unliveable" and many had exposed electrical wires, broken windows and plumbing, with no running water or flushing toilets or working showers.

"It was just chaotic," he said.

Mr Torrijos will continue giving evidence when the inquest resumes on Monday.

Aaron Bunch - AAP


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