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Cleveland Dodd inquest: Nurse describes Unit 18 as 'inhumane' and a 'war zone'

Rhiannon Clarke -

Cleveland Dodd was just 16 years old when he was discovered unresponsive in his cell in Unit 18 at Perth's Casuarina Prison during the early hours of October 12, 2023. 

His death in hospital eight days later was the first of a child in detention in Western Australia. Prior to being found, Cleveland had expressed eight self-harm threats and made several pleas for medical assistance and access to drinking water.

A coronial inquest into his death in Perth heard on Wednesday the situation in the unit was so bad before the incident that registered nurse Fiona Bain started keeping a diary of events to preserve her mental health.

Ms Bain, who was on shift that night, tried to save Cleveland who harmed himself in the youth wing of Casuarina maximum security adult prison and has told an inquest the unit was like a war zone and conditions were inhumane.

During the inquest, it was revealed that the unit lacked a proper clinical treatment area, and Ms Bain expressed her belief that her role was merely to "pick up the pieces" amidst a significant staff turnover.

In addition, Ms Bain mentioned that certain detainees were confined to their cells for over 22 hours each day without access to running water. Furthermore, they were compelled to eat their meals and use the toilet within these cells, which were described as disgusting, dirty and grim, and without the ability to cleanse themselves.

"Leftover food in there, the smell of urine, faeces, sweat, a lot of graffiti, damage to cells," she said.

Ms Bain acknowledged that the cells were inhabitable, cruel, and a "disturbing situation". 

She informed the coroner that certain higher-ranking officers displayed indifference by "shrugging their shoulders" and simply ignoring the detainees' actions of covering or scratching the cameras, similar to what Cleveland had done before tragically harming himself. 

This negligence hindered the ability of the control room staff to ensure the well-being of the detainees and posed a problem for those who needed heightened supervision after expressing intentions of self-harm.

According to the ABC, before October 2023 the issue was so prevalent that it was a regular occurrence to witness most of the cell camera screens in the control room being blanked out. Ms Bain highlighted that youth custodial officers frequently raised this problem to senior officers. 

"There have been occasions that you can recall where a senior officer did nothing?" Coroner Philip Urquhart said. 

"That's correct," said Ms Bain .

Coroner Urquhart described this as "effectively a shrug of the shoulders".

However, there were occasions when senior officers claimed that there was no solution and chose not to escalate the issue to higher authorities.

WA Premier Roger Cook has been under scrutiny for the WA department of justice's negligence in the case of Cleveland's death.

"I think we continue to be disturbed and distressed by some of the evidence which is presented at the coroner's court, but I'm pleased that evidence is there, and I'm pleased those stories are being told," Mr Cook told reporters.

"It's all part of the journey that we need to go on to make sure we improve the way we address juvenile justice issues."

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