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WA's youth justice crisis - a failure of leadership

Guest Author -
wa

It is with great disappointment that I am writing this opinion piece about the treatment of children in Banksia Hill Detention Centre in Western Australia.

I am shocked, dismayed and perplexed at how WA Premier Mark McGowan and Minister Bill Johnston have side-stepped their responsibility as leaders regarding the treatment of children in Banksia Hill.

Real leaders acknowledge problems and take full responsibility for their actions and inaction.

The absolutely pathetic explanations from Minister Johnston that he did not know his Department of Justice staff were using the hog tie method to restrain children, a methodology which is banned in every State and Territory in Australia defies belief.

His defensive attitude when informed that children were being locked up for 23 hours a day and hogtied, says a lot about his level of concern for Indigenous children.

Premier Mark McGown built a reputation during covid on trust and care to keep us all safe. Luckily the majority of us are over the age of 17 years, because it is apparent the Premier McGown doesn't care about keeping children safe and is happy to describe conditions in Banksia as more akin to kids spending time at a holiday resort than a children's prison which is attracting world-wide condemnation.

The treatment of Indigenous kids inside Banksia Hill is inhumane.

10 Banksia Hill Detention Centre staff are currently under investigation for using excessive force including the "folding up" hog tie restraint.

37 incidents of self-harm, including one suicide attempt, occurred at Banksia Hill in just one month â€" July this year.

Nine out of ten of the children in juvenile detention in WA have cognitive impairments or neuro-disabilities.

Children are held in their cell at least 20 hours a day in lockdowns. One 14 year-old boy was locked in his cell for over 20 hours a day on 26 occasions across four months in the first half of this year, which was found to be unlawful by the Supreme Court.

I recently received recognition as a distinguished alumni from Murdoch University in part because of my involvement in fighting for social justice for Aboriginal people during my career.

I am trying to create a positive impact on the lives of Aboriginal people who didn't have a voice. The news of the treatment of children at Banksia detention Centre has left me thinking I live in a barbaric state that deliberately chooses to not rehabilitate kids.

Instead, it tortures them mentally and physically and then wonders why significant numbers of them end up being hardened criminals. The government has no one to blame but itself.

The government's complicit stance in defending this treatment of children is horrendous. I cannot understand how they can put their heads in the sand and close their eyes and ears.

Why are we the taxpayers funding government departments, when the justice system turns these children into unproductive and damaged members of the community?

In the words of the Children's Court President Hylton Quail, this approach by the state government is "cruel", "barbaric" and "a form of child abuses".

Yet Premier Mark McGowan and the Minister Bill Johnston turn a blind eye to it, instead justifying their viewpoint by speaking half-truths.

The facts are these children are leaving prison more traumatised than when they went in. They are being treated like wild animals. In fact, the government would probably look after wild animals better than these children in custody.

In the name of justice and common decency, Department heads must roll, there needs to be a complete overhaul of Corrective Services and Department of Justice. Clearly, they are not doing their job.

The Don Dale Royal Commission recently examined the shocking mistreatment of youth in detention in the Northern Territory. It clearly exposed that our young children were being treated inhumanely while in custody.

Western Australia is just as bad in its treatment of detained youth and the WA government don't give a damn about kids in prison.

Premier McGowan recently acknowledged that many of these children in custody had traumatised childhoods and had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which reinforces that Labor are very aware of the issues and needs of these youth.

Yet many of these youth are being locked up in isolation for days on end.

No human being should be kept in isolation let alone a child. The United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty also explicitly prohibits solitary confinement of children.

For complete transparency there has to be a Royal Commission independent of the state government because we cannot trust them.

Wayne Bergmann is the co-owner of the National Indigenous Times

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