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136 Justice, health and human rights advocates urge WA Premier to close Unit 18 after death in custody

Giovanni Torre -

More than 130 organisations and individuals prominent in the fields of justice, health and human rights have urged Western Australian Premier Roger Cook to close the notorious Unit 18, the youth wing of WA's maximum security adult prison, Casuarina, in an open letter.

The facility has attracted condemnation from a range of experts for its high rate of self-harm incidents and its use of prolonged lock-downs on youth.

Past and current WA Inspectors of Custodial Services and WA Children's Court presidents have called for it to be shut down.

Last month, 16-year-old Indigenous boy Cleveland Dodd died after self-harming in the facility.

The letter, issued Friday, is below. The letter and the full list of signatories is online.

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"Dear Premier Cook,

No child deserves to be locked alone in a cell for over 22 hours a day. Yet in Western Australia this is happening every day in an outer suburb of Perth.

When you assumed the role of Premier, you stated "… Above all else, Banksia Hill must be made safe for staff and children in detention."

Since July 2022, your government has placed children inside maximum-security adult prison, in a facility called 'Unit 18'. Since it opened, there have been 20 suicide attempts and more than 350 instances of self-harm.

In September, children spent an average of 22 hours and 14 minutes in their cell each day. That's just one hour and 46 minutes outside of their cell a day. WA's own Supreme Court has ruled this violates WA law. It has been described as torturous, and a form of solitary confinement by human rights watchdogs.

And tragically, a 16-year-old boy has died in custody at Unit 18. His name was Cleveland Dodd. He was the first child death in detention in WA. His death was foreseeable and preventable.

Experts warned of the risks of Unit 18. Lawyers, child and mental health experts, Aboriginal leaders, families, workers, and the young people detained spoke up. Evidence-based solutions and alternatives to Unit 18 were provided.

Today, we are speaking up together again. We recognise you agree Unit 18 is not working.

The announcement of new leadership inside the Department of Justice is a first step. But more is needed – for the children inside Unit 18.

We call for the immediate closure of Unit 18, and to urgently reform WA's failed youth justice system.

You can end the imprisonment of children in adult prison. You can choose to listen to the chorus of voices telling you the evidence-based solutions to fix the youth justice system. You can choose to care for the children your government is responsible for, and act now to prevent another tragedy before it occurs. Today."

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A WA Government spokesperson told National Indigenous Times that the Premier "has said he wants to see the closure of Unit 18 but right now, it is the only option for what is a very small number of detainees who are complex, troubled and potentially dangerous – dangerous to each other and dangerous to staff".

"That is why the State Government is developing a comprehensive plan that it hopes will eventually see that happen. This has included increased staff at Unit 18 to improve out-of-cell hours and service delivery," they said.

"There have been no major incidents at Banksia Hill since the Premier and Corrective Services Minister announced changes in June."

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