What happens to kids in Banksia Hill?

What happens to kids in Banksia Hill?
July 17 08:55 2017 Print This Article

Updated July 17, 2017 19:42:15

A girl left to soak in her own urine after being confined in an observation facility alongside boys. Pepper spray and stun grenades used for crowd control. Gun laser sights being trained on children.

This is the grim reality of a report into the treatment of kids at Western Australia’s only youth justice facility, housing kids aged 10 to 18, boys and girls.

The facility accommodates young males and females from all over the state who have been sentenced for a crime or have been arrested and are awaiting a court appearance.

Custodial inspector Neil Morgan’s report released today has found the system is unstable and failing, and has called for dramatic reform.

Guards armed with guns called in

Mr Morgan’s report found the department has been increasingly relying on its Special Operations Group (SOG), or tactical response, to manage incidents at the facility.

On three occasions in 2016 flash bombs, also known as stun grenades, and pepper spray were used to control inmates.

One incident on December 31 last year led the inspector’s office to issue the department with a “Show Cause Notice”.

SOG used distraction devices and laser sights on three young males to get them down from the roof.

The boys had smashed parts of the unit and thrown objects at staff, but ultimately came down and no-one was injured.

The inspector’s office reviewed “grainy” CCTV footage from a centre camera and handheld camera and “became concerned about some aspects of the operation”.

It did not elaborate on what caused the concern.

But it said SOG “does not visually record their interventions”, which had led to insufficient accountability.

Female inmates housed in boys’ facility

In late 2016, all the young women in Banksia were moved from their self-contained unit, Yeeda, to the Harding Unit that “serves as a place for the short-term orientation, behaviour management and observation of boys”, the report explained.

This caused some of the women to become “unstable, and incidents increased including self-harm and roof ascent”.

The young men and women could not see each other but could hear each other, which led to some of the women being traumatised, the report said.

“The situation was allegedly so dire for one young female that after 72 hours in an observation cell, and finding her soaked in her own urine, staff took her to a holding cell in the centre’s admissions area,” the report said.

In December 2016, a young person at Banksia Hill was allegedly sexually assaulted in an unsecured cell. The report did not clarify if the victim was male or female.

There was no staff member in the wing supervising the young people at the time the cells were unsecured.

The report noted the system of securing the cells created a risk to vulnerable young people in the absence of constant and active staff supervision.

Staff ‘overwhelmed, disempowered’

There have been eight staff assaulted so far in 2017 — five of those involved the same young person spitting at staff.

This year, half of all violent incidents were directed towards a staff member, rather than between inmates.

According to the report, staff at Banksia were feeling increasingly unsafe.

In 2016, 52 per cent of workers felt unsafe, and some said they would feel anxious attending work for fear of being hurt by an inmate.

They also felt increasingly “disempowered”.

“These kids run the centre, not us,” one staff member quoted in the report said.

“We have no power or support to even try and manage their bad behaviour, because we are afraid of giving consequences because we will not be supported.

“Bottom line we come into work stressed to the max and try get through our day the best way we can so we can go home safe to our families.”

Record levels of ‘mechanical’ restraints

Mr Morgan found the use of restraints had reached a record level in 2016, with mechanical restraints used 394 times, controlled escorts 244 times and physical constraints used in 266 incidents.

However, it said the use of spit hoods were removed from the centre following the ABC’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre report.

The mesh material is used to cover the young person’s head to stop them spitting at staff.

Data revealed the hoods were used 14 times between 2014 and 2016.

Now the staff wear a face shield that they said took time to put on which delayed response times.

“Removing the hoods has also removed guidance and governance around managing young people who are spitting,” the report said.

“It is time for the department to review its responses to young people who spit and consider if spit hoods should be reintroduced, or to implement mitigation strategies to address the adverse consequences of spit hood removal.”

Food restricted for ‘behaviour management’

In addition, the report found food had been “restricted as a behaviour management technique”.

“In response to the increase in incidents, Banksia Hill provided a different, more restricted diet to young people in the Harding Unit,” the report said.

The Harding Unit is the facility’s multipurpose unit.

It said sugary foods, morning tea and desert were removed and hot meals were not supplied but replaced by sandwiches and wraps.

“Staff advised us that some young people self-reported weight loss, were hungry, and were denied fruit upon request,” the report said.

“We confirmed with some young people that they were often hungry while in Harding Unit.”

Youth Psychological Service staff believed it had led to the inmates lacking energy, increase irritability, and frustration.

Topics: prisons-and-punishment, law-crime-and-justice, youth, community-and-society, wa

First posted July 17, 2017 18:55:52

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Scott Menard
Scott Menard

He is a leading authority on business trends including ‘big data’, self-employment and the social media revolution. He’s the author of the award-winning book, Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed (2011, Wiley) and a regular speaker for Bloomberg TV. He has spoken about global mega trends, big data and the social media revolution at conferences and business events around the world .

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