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Justice advocates urge WA government to hand over security video from youth prisons

Giovanni Torre -

All security footage from within WA youth detention facilities Banksia Hill and Unit 18 should be surrendered to an independent body for review, justice advocates said Thursday.

At a press conference held in response to the major disturbance at Banksia Hill this week, Megan Krakouer of the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project said "80 to 85 per cent of the abuses (occurring in the youth detention system) are not known (by the public)".

"If the WA government has nothing to hide whatsoever, they will hand (the footage) over," she said.

Ms Krakouer called for an independent inquiry into the youth detention and justice systems.

Ms Krakouer and her National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project colleague Gerry Georgatos have collected testimony from hundreds of current and former Banksia Hill detainees for a class action.

Stewart Levitt of Levitt Robinson law firm said the statements of claim for the class action would be filed next week.

Mr Levitt likened the most recent Banksia Hill incident to the riots on Palm Island after police were cleared over the violent killing of Mulrunji, also known as Cameron Doomadgee.

Dana Levitt from Levitt Robinson said money pledged for reforms had not been spent.

"We don't want to hear any more about (funding commitments)… Not a single Indigenous person has been recruited and not a dollar spent," she said.

Ms Levitt said staff in Banksia Hill, particularly in the intensive support unit, were not properly equipped to deliver the environment needed by young detainees.

"The intensive support unit is more like an intensive suicide unit… we have kids in there self-harming and attempting suicide at rates that are beyond belief," she said.

"Instead of attracting people who want to help kids, (the Department) is attracting people who want to hurt kids… There is an abject lack of respect for these children."

Ms Levitt called for youth justice to be a distinct portfolio and system separated from the adult justice system.

"Youth justice reflects adult justice, in fact it has become more severe than adult justice," she said.

She noted the ongoing use of lockdowns of up to 20 hours a day in Banskia Hill and addressed comments by Corrective Services Minister Bill Johnston that Banksia Hill detainees had engaged in sports and other programs the day before the riot.

"Whether they engaged in programs that day or not is irrelevant. This is a weeks-long, months-long thing. It's cumulative."

Gerry Georgatos, Megan Krakouer, Professor Ted Wilkes and Dr Betsy Buchanan OAM at Thursday's press conference. Image: Giovanni Torre

Mr Georgatos called for a strong focus on support, nurture and psychological care for young detainees to address their trauma and other conditions so they can escape the cycle of re-offending and incarceration.

Professor of public health, Ted Wilkes, and long-time advocate for justice and housing for Aboriginal people, Dr Betsy Buchanan OAM, also spoke at the conference.

Professor Wilkes said land and housing were a key part of rehabilitation and youth crime prevention.

He noted that wealthy white families could provide stable, supportive accommodation to young members of their family who had been in custody.

"We don't have that in our world… We need land and housing. Take them away from those evil places, those pitiful places, and bring them to a happier place," he said.

Professor Wilkes said the mental health crisis in the youth justice system needs an Indigenous-led solution.

"It is a public health emergency for our children. Us Aboriginal leaders seem to get neglected in terms of our knowledge."

Mr Georgatos said all of the children detained in Banksia Hill and Unit 18 are traumatised to varying degrees.

"It's not just some of the kids traumatised, it is 100 per cent of the kids traumatised. The incarceration itself is traumatising," he said.

Professor Wilkes urged solidarity amongst people and organisations who want to see fundamental reforms and justice for young Aboriginal people.

"There are some deadly whitefellas in the system… but there are also the rats who infest the nest," he said.

A WA Government spokesperson told National Indigenous Times that the government is "committed to real and practical measures to improve youth detention facilities and the quality and effectiveness of the care provided".

"The 2023-24 Budget brings the total investment to $105 million for upgrades to infrastructure, increased staffing, expanded services and the transition to a new model of care at the Banksia Hill Detention Centre. The 2023/24 Budget includes $21.5 million of additional spending," he said.

The spokesperson said budget items for an additional 38 additional Youth Custodial Officers; support and enrichment programs for detainees, including a new cultural support program delivered by an independent Aboriginal service provider; oneâ€'onâ€'one support, drug and alcohol counselling; and enhanced recreational programs.

The spokesperson noted "nearly $90 million" in similar investments announced in the 2022-23 Budget and Mid-year Review.

A WA Department of Justice spokesperson told National Indigenous Times that "independent agencies already have oversight of incidents that occur within youth detention facilities".

"The Office of the Inspector for Custodial Services, the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) and the Ombudsman can seek to review any incident, including having access to security footage, at any custodial facility," he said.

"All incidents at youth detention facilities where use of force is a factor are reviewed by a senior management team and where necessary, referred to the Department's Use of Force Committee. This committee's membership includes the Professional Standards directorate, which can refer cases of alleged staff serious misconduct to the CCC or WA Police."

He said the Department has "completed or committed to" infrastructure works worth $46.6 million from commitments made in the 2022/23 State Budget and Mid-year Review.

"The Department has hired four Aboriginal Youth Support Officers to fill newly created positions under the Aboriginal Services Unit. They join four other Aboriginal Youth Support Officers on staff. Additionally, since mid-2022 three Aboriginal Youth Custodial Officers, one Aboriginal Recreation Activities Officer and one Aboriginal Stores Officer have joined Banksia Hill's staff."

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