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Ben Cousins drafted to tackle crisis in WA youth justice system

Giovanni Torre -

Former West Coast Eagles and Richmond star Ben Cousins has been called in to work with Banksia Hill detainees as part of a "rehabilitative" football game against a Perth high school.

Western Australia's principal youth detention facility has been plagued by troubles for years, including riots, self-harm, allegations of abuse and the prolonged use of unlawful lockdowns.

Mr Cousins, who struggled with substance abuse and his own altercations with the law before turning his life around, now works with Channel Seven.

The 2005 Brownlow medallist visited the Banskiaroos team to offer support to the young detainees, The West Australian reports.

WA's youth justice system has risen to national attention. The recent death in custody of Cleveland Dodd, who self-harmed while detained at Unit 18, the youth wing of Perth's maximum security adult prison Casuarina, has exposed a range of failings in the system.

Advocates have long raised the alarm about the high rate of self harm in Banksia and Unit 18, and current and former WA Children's Court presidents and Inspectors of Custodial Services have been highly critical of both facilities.

Legal action by the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA saw the Supreme Court rule the use of prolonged lock downs on youth unlawful, but the practice has continued due to staff shortages.

"I sort of know what it's like to be in their shoes, I found myself in similar tough situations and I know what it's like," Mr Cousins told The West Australian.

"Hopefully some good can come from my experiences, giving the message that you can turn your life around."

Mr Cousins was seen giving advice to players, congratulating one on a great tackle and helping carry an injured player off the field.

"I know the value of sport and connecting back into the community and it's important they're reminded there are people in the community that want to see them leading a positive and productive life," the former Eagle said.

"There are some talented kids here and I've been really impressed. It's great to see them working together to accomplish something."

Acting Deputy Superintendent Operations Colin Muijs told The West Australian that bringing people like Mr Cousins into the centre was an important step in supporting detainees.

"Team sports not only enhance confidence, resilience and self-esteem, they promote social connectedness. Having Ben Cousins offer his time to attend this match really resonated with Banksia Hill's young people," Mr Muijs said.

Mr Cousins' father, Bryan, has been working with the Stephen Michael Foundation and is understood to have offered to bring his son to help with weekly recreational sessions at Banksia Hill.

Darling Range Sports College's AFL squad is the second team to visit the detention centre this year.

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