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WA Supreme Court judge rules teenager's Banksia Hill jail cell lockdown unlawful

Giovanni Torre -

The Supreme Court of Western Australia has ruled the lockdown of a 14-year-old boy in a cell for at least 20 hours per day on 26 occasions in Banksia Hill Detention Centre was unlawful.

The Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia on June 23 applied for a judicial review of the lockdowns, which occurred in January, February, May and June of this year.

On Thursday morning Justice Paul Tottle ruled the lockdowns were in breach of WA's Young Offenders act 1994, and noted the applicant was locked in his cell for long hours on successive days.

"Between 4 and 6 February 2022 the records show that the applicant was locked in his cell for approximately 70 of 72 hours... staff shortages were the primary cause of the applicant being locked in his cell on those days," he said.

Justice Tottle said confining detainees to their cells for long hours was a "severe" measure which significantly reduced liberty and amenity.

"Confining children to their sleeping quarters in a detention centre for long hours, thus effectively confining them in isolation, can only be characterised as an extraordinary measure," he said.

"One that should only be implemented in rare or exceptional circumstances … because of very significant harm such confinement can do to children in detention, many of whom are already psychologically vulnerable.

"It is a significantly more difficult and challenging experience for a young person to spend 24 hours in isolation than it is for an adult."

The boy, who turned 15 in March, was under lockdown in general units and also Banksia Hill's intensive support unit.

Speaking outside court ALSWA civil law and human rights unit managing lawyer Alice Barter said on some days the boy was confined to his cell for 24 hours.

"Since December 2021 ALSWA repeatedly raised serious concerns over the legality of the conditions with the Minister for Corrective Services, Bill Johnston, and the Department of Justice, and after seeing no improvement, had no choice but to seek a declaration by the Supreme Court of WA," she said.

"We have submitted complaints for over 20 individual children about these conditions." ALSWA, which will submit further complaints, said Corrective Services staff must mentor young people, not just punish them.

Ms Barter said the ALS was concerned conditions at the facility had not been resolved.

"The department needs to resolve it in light of this judgement," she said. Barrister Marina Georgiou successfully argued implementing extensive rolling lockdowns, caused by staff shortages, contravened the Act.

ALSWA chief executive Dennis Eggington said the conditions at Banksia Hill breach international human rights standards and amount to unlawful solitary confinement.

"These children deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, not locked in a cell all day with only 10 minutes out or none at all. They need fresh air, human connection, education and adults to mentor them. If they are provided with these basic things, they will not act out," he said.

Dr Eggington added that moving some of the children in Banksia Hill to Casuarina, a maximum-security adult prison, was not a solution to the Department's failure to run Banksia Hill properly, "which has been ongoing now for over a decade".

"ALSWA will partner with the department to get Aboriginal mentors in to work with the children," he said.

A WA Department of Justice spokesperson said the department "will examine the detail of the Supreme Court judgment in relation to the management of young people in our care and the safe operation of detention facilities under the provisions of the Young Offenders Act 1994".

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