Most of the findings of this report are positive. First and foremost, there was a noticeable improvement in the overall atmosphere compared with 2008. However, the inspection also identified a number of significant issues which need to be addressed. Some of the more straightforward matters have already been tackled locally, and there has been a positive response to a number of others.
Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre is in the midst of a fundamental transformation. Only time will tell whether the decision to manage such a diverse group in a single location is the best choice, but it certainly presents some opportunities for positive improvements in the youth custodial system. For example, it should be possible to provide a more integrated and holistic approach to detainee management in general, and a much more protected, nurturing and positive environment for young women and girls in particular. The redevelopment of Banksia Hill will also bring some economies of scale but it will be critical to ensure that sufficient human resources are in place. This is already a matter of some concern given that staffing shortages at both Rangeview and Banksia Hill have been impacting on services.
The total number of children in detention has risen substantially over the last three years. In 2009, the average was around 150. In 2011, it was consistently over 185 and not infrequently exceeded 200. A historic population peak of 227 was reached on 27 April 2011. If the current growth continues, it is likely that this number of children will regularly be in detention and therefore parts of the expanded Centre will be operating above capacity from the time it opens. It is to be hoped that important new regional youth justice initiatives, designed to reduce the number of children detained in Perth, coupled with initiatives in the metropolitan area, will have the desired effect of reducing the number of children in custody.
In some areas the response to recommendations is less than satisfactory. For example, the reality is that children in detention are subject to being ‘locked down’ in their cells or units far more frequently than is the case at adult prisons. In response to our recommendation that the number of scheduled and unscheduled lockdowns be reduced, the Department of Corrective Services says that there is no alternative given existing resources. This Office does not suggest that safety or security should be compromised, but firmly believes the current use of lockdowns is excessive and that the necessary resources should be found to at least bring practices in line with adult prisons.
The use of regression has been a matter of concern for some time. Regression is officially badged as a targeted and individualised regime for improving behaviour. Legally, it sits separately from the rules relating to the ‘punishment’ of detainees for detention centre or criminal law offences. However, we found that it involves a restrictive regime which is in many respects indistinguishable from formal punishment, and generally of longer duration. It was impossible to understand regression without analysing its use alongside other forms of detainee discipline. This report fully acknowledges the difficulties that staff face in dealing with some of the young people at the Centre. And it notes that staff usually, and quite appropriately, will try to resolve matters at the lowest possible level, rather than escalating them to formal charges or regression. However, there are some negative findings with respect to the operation of regression and related disciplinary matters which led to 11 recommendations on the management of detainee misbehaviour and regression. Most were supported in full or part.