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WA government announces funding boost for youth justice reforms in the face of growing pressure

Giovanni Torre -

After a long-running campaign and in the face of rising public alarm, the Western Australian government has announced a $63million package it says will address the crisis in youth detention.

The funding and reform plan, revealed in the Sunday Times, is intended to deliver expanded mental health care, improved conditions and more education and vocational training in youth detention.

This comes in addition to funding announced earlier for building upgrades and to tackle the long-running dire staff shortages that saw the excessive use of lockdowns in the system.

"The public rightfully expects that community safety is paramount. It is also vital to break the cycle of crime for young people," Premier Mark McGowan told the Sunday Times.

Former Inspector of Custodial Services, Professor Neil Morgan, has noted repeatedly that the high rate of re-offending among former Banksia Hill detainees, around 70%, indicated the failure of the system.

Indigenous youth are radically overrepresentated in the children detained at Banksia Hill and Casuarina Prison's Unit 18.

Premier McGowan recently met with a small group of advocates at a summit called in the wake of disturbing footage from within Banksia Hill being broadcast by state and national media.

Human rights advocate Megan Krakouer, who has worked with hundreds of current and former Banksia Hill detainees building a class action case, told National Indigenous Times that "more than half that (newly announced) spend is on upgrading cells".

"It's a spend on concrete and steel instead of personnel. Most of the rest of that spend is on guards and the smaller spend is on a few workers," she said.

"The children have been betrayed and the government doesn't want to learn. We need to tap into the actual rehabilitation experts and what has been demonstrated to work."

Judges, former judges, the Australian Human Rights Commission, custodial inspectors, legal academics, Mental Health Australia, health experts and union representatives have all criticised the operation of Western Australia's youth justice system and called for change.

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