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Justice experts, WA Premier clash over Banksia Hill human rights record

Giovanni Torre -

Law professor and former WA Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan and former WA Children's Court President Denis Reynolds have clashed with Premier Mark McGowan over his government's handling of youth justice.

Mr Morgan and Mr Reynolds renewed their criticism of the Banksia Hill Detention Centre on Tuesday.

Mr Morgan called for the state's lone juvenile prison to be shut down and for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14.

The UWA emeritus professor told the ABC that multiple purpose built smaller facilities should be established to replace Banksia Hill â€" for children aged 14 and older.

"We put remand kids in with sentenced kids, even though when young people come in off the street, and they're on remand, they're likely to be even more volatile," he said.

"The government needs to get back to the drawing board, it needs to invest in smaller facilities that are focused on need, age, gender, cultural background, and start delivering what these young people need.

"And we need to invest in alternatives to custody to keep young people as far as possible."

Mark McGowan's government has come under fire repeatedly for its handling of youth justice and Banksia Hill Detention Centre.

Mr McGowan defended the government's handling of youth justice.

"Sadly there has been a group that has disrupted it for everyone else ... there's been no alternative but to put them into Unit 18," he said.

Mr McGowan said 11 young people remained at Unit 18 and about 85Â were currently incarcerated at Banksia Hill.

"That means that Banksia Hill ... is running far more effectively (and) peacefully," he said.

"There's all sorts of education and psychological programs in there, so that those young people who are not being disruptive or dangerous or assaulting staff or causing damage, can get the attention they need."

Indigenous children are radically over-represented in Western Australia's juvenile justice system.

Many critics of Banksia Hill have pointed out that children from Western Australia's north are detained in Perth, separated from family support and Country. Fitzroy Crossing, for example, is some 2,300km from the state's capital.

Current Inspector of Custodial Services Eamon Ryan slammed Banksia Hill in a report in April, describing the facility as "not fit for purpose" and conditions within it as "cruel, inhuman and degrading".

Justice advocates said the report vindicated the class action that has collected testimonies from hundreds of current and former detainees at the centre.

The day after the report was released the WA government announced $25 million in funding to upgrade Banksia Hill, which Mr Morgan described as beyond redemption.

In August, Supreme Court Justice Paul Tottle ruled the state government had breached the Youth Offenders Act 1994 by locking a 14-year-old boy in a Banksia Hill cell for at least 20 hours per day 26 times in the first half of 2022.

Earlier that month, questions in parliament from Greens MP Brad Pettitt revealed July had

Former WA Children's Court President Denis Reynolds said the transfer of 17 inmates from Banksia Hill to the Unit 18 at the adult maximum security Casuarina Prison in July was "appalling".

seen 36 self-harm incidents and one attempted suicide in Banksia Hill, and there had been 13 self-harm incidents and three attempted suicides in Unit 18 from 20 July to 8 August.

Speaking to media on Tuesday, Mr Reynolds said it had only been "a matter of good luck" that there has not been a suicide in either facility.

Mr Morgan said the cost of keeping young people at Banksia Hill was well over half a million dollars per inmate per year but delivered a re-offending rate of 70 per cent.

Fitzroy Valley businessperson and community advocate Patrick Green told National Indigenous Times that funding could be invested in programs to divert children away from the criminal justice system.

"The funding it takes to incarcerate one juvenile, put that on the ground. There are people who can live on that and make a difference in those children's lives," he said.

"We are not asking for new funding, just divert what currently exists and put it into programs."

In early October the government announced a review of the Youth Offenders Act.

Later that month the current WA Children's Court president, Hylton Quail, warned the state government it could be found in contempt of court for continuing to detain children in an adult prison.

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