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Major disturbance erupts at youth unit in WA adult prison

Giovanni Torre -

Several prison guards were injured after a major disturbance erupted at Unit 18, the youth unit at Casuarina maximum security adult prison, on Saturday.

A Department of Justice spokesperson said that around 4pm on Saturday, two detainees, while outside their cells for recreation, assaulted a Youth Custodial Officer and took their keys.

The two young people then unlocked 11 others from their cells and the 13 detainees climbed rooftops of Unit 18 and two nearby buildings, "damaging infrastructure and throwing debris at staff".

"A security cordon was put in place and prisoners at Casuarina secured during the incident," the spokesperson said.

"The detainees progressively surrendered to officers during the night, the last doing so at 2.15am (Sunday morning).

"Six officers were injured during the disturbance. Three buildings were damaged and one flooded from activating its fire extinguishing system."

The spokesperson said Youth Custodial Officers, Prison Officers and members of the Special Operations Group were involved in bringing the incident under control.

A group of underage detainees were transferred from Banksia Hill Detention Centre to the stand-alone unit at the adult prison last July.

Restorative justice advocate Gerry Georgatos told National Indigenous Times that the detained youth "are going stir crazy locked down in their cells obscenely for the major part of the day".

"When lock downs become the norm, months after months, the traumas of their marginalised lives are not just invalidated and cumulatively compounded, they're dangerously escalated," he said.

"The damage to their psyches risk irreparability, with the sense of a permanency of adversarialism, of a sensing of un-bridgable divides.

"They are crying out for rescue while in the last stretches of their tattered childhoods."

Justice advocate Megan Krakouer, who is working as a paralegal on the Levitt and Robinson class action involving former Banksia Hill and Rangeview detainees, said Unit 18 has been an "abysmal failure".

"The breaches of all forms of the rights of children mount sky high. Unit 18 was portrayed as a solution and only days later commenced as an unstoppable wreck of nightmare," she told National Indigenous Times.

"I have to state for the umpteenth time, had rehabilitative mentor and social systems reformer Gerry Georgatos and myself continued on from our eight weeks of work in Banksia in 2020 during WA's COVID quarantine of non-essential workers to their homes, none of these horrors would be occurring.

"In those eight weeks when we were called in by the Commissioner of Corrective Services, we halved the female detainee numbers, we also de-escalated every potential incident… You need seasoned expertise."

Mr Georgatos said Unit 18 had rapidly degenerated into an environment devoid of compassion.

"(It) has them desperately playing out as if each day is their last," he said.

"I know these children and they know all too well if they aren't helped now, aren't rescued and mentored, they know once they are adults they will be forgotten altogether."

CPSU/CSA Branch Assistant Secretary, Melanie Bray, said the union was meeting with staff to discuss the issues at the unit.

"Our thoughts today remain with the injured staff at Unit 18. Every worker should be able to come home safely from work after every shift," she said.

"The Department of Justice needs to urgently do more to ensure the workplace health and safety of its employees. It should not take industrial strike action from union members to ensure that they go to work and come home safely."

The WA government recently announced the appointment of former Mental Health Commissioner Tim Marney to put into effect a new model of care for children at WA's Banksia Hill Detention Centre, and flagged the eventual closure of Unit 18.


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