Fresh claims of violence, abuse in youth detention

·3-min read
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The troubled Banksia Hill youth detention centre is facing fresh scrutiny amid allegations a girl was sexually harassed by custodial officers.

Detainees at Banksia Hill and Casuarina Prison's Unit 18 youth facility claim they have been subjected to excessive use of force, ongoing lockdowns, forced to sleep in wet clothes or bedding and wear clothing stained in other people's blood.

The allegations are highlighted in dozens of complaint letters written on behalf of the detainees by the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia.

Tabling the 57 letters in state parliament, Greens upper house MP Brad Pettitt detailed claims by a female detainee on remand at Banksia Hill who said she had been hit with chairs on either side of her head by two officers.

"She had lumps on her head as a result," Mr Pettitt told parliament.

"She was then placed in handcuffs and her legs were folded up behind her into a 'hog tie' or 'folding up' position.

"She was then dragged along the floor whilst restrained."

The same detainee alleged an officer had moaned inappropriately at her and told her: "I love it when you scream".

Her complaints pre-dated the facility's ban last year on the use of the "folding-up" restraint technique which is considered to pose a risk of suffocation.

The Aboriginal Legal Service on Friday accused WA's Department of Justice of a "comprehensive failure to properly respond" to the letters.

In a statement, the department said the Aboriginal Legal Service had raised 42 allegations of staff misconduct at Banksia Hill and Unit 18 since January 1.

"In every case, ALSWA is provided correspondence acknowledging receipt of the correspondence and the complaint raised," a spokeswoman said.

"The department has closed 30 of those cases, finding that in 29 there were no disciplinary breaches.

"In one case, an officer was counselled following an adverse finding.

"Ten have been allocated for further investigation and two are being assessed."

Arrangements were made to speak to complainants whenever staff misconduct claims arose, the department said.

Aboriginal Legal Service WA chief executive Wayne Nannup expressed alarm over the conditions at the facilities.

"All kids deserve to be safe and healthy," he said.

"We are supposed to be rehabilitating these children, not inflicting ongoing solitary confinement on them."

A spokeswoman said the department regularly discussed complaints with the Aboriginal Legal Service and last met with its representatives in early-April.

A riot last week involving dozens of Banksia Hill detainees was likened to "terrorism" by Premier Mark McGowan, who claimed brain injuries such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder were being used as excuses for poor behaviour.

The premier said the damage bill from the disturbance, in which detainees climbed onto the roof, lit fires and hurled projectiles, could exceed $30 million.

WA's Supreme Court last year found a teenage boy had been unlawfully locked in his cell for at least 20 hours per day on 26 occasions.

Several legal actions have been launched on behalf of detainees against the state government.

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