The use of strip-searching at Banksia Hill was examined in a June 2008 inspection of Banksia Hill which found:
In the majority of cases, strip-searches were undertaken as part of routine procedure rather than in response to suspicion or information received. The use of strip-searching as a routine practice at Banksia Hill cannot be justified from a risk management perspective – it should be targeted based on reasonable suspicion. The extensive use of routine strip-searches is a breach of human rights and dignity, at odds with the otherwise individual-focused care of detainees maintained by the centre.
At the time of the inspection in 2008, detainees at Banksia Hill were routinely strip-searched on every entry into and exit from the centre. Strip-searches were conducted on detainees arriving from Rangeview, despite having been strip-searched there prior to travelling in a secure vehicle (staffed by juvenile custodial officers) and disembarking in the secure sally port at Banksia Hill. This double search process was said to be unnecessary, as there should have been no opportunity after strip-searching at Rangeview for a detainee to access any contraband, weapon or self-harm implement prior to arriving at Banksia Hill. There was no clear risk to be mitigated by a second strip-search.
The 2008 inspection report commented on the review of strip search practices in Queensland and stated:
Strip-search practices have recently been reviewed in Queensland following detainee complaints that were taken up by legal and advocacy groups. Consequently, Queensland’s youth detention centres now take a more balanced approach, reducing routine strip-searches to new admissions from the community; although in practice they are nearly always carried out on court returns due to reasonable suspicion of contraband. Most significantly, routine strip-searches were abandoned after visits and before detainees travel to court, with negligible change in contraband found in the centres. Western Australian practices should be reviewed to establish less-invasive alternatives where circumstances permit.
Following the 2008 inspection the Department agreed to review the practices and procedures relating to the strip searching of detainees. However, it appears that little has changed. From 20 January 2013 to 12 March 2013 detainees were strip searched when transferring from one detention centre to another (Hakea JF to Banksia Hill and vice versa) and on leaving or returning to the detention centre (for example, for court appearances). The detention management reports also confirmed that detainees were strip searched before and after social visits at Hakea JF up until 5 March 2013 when the search prior to the visit was discontinued.
Regulation 82(1) of the Regulations authorises the Superintendent to search any detainee in accordance with the provisions in Part 10 of the Regulations and take from them any illegal or unauthorised thing found on them.
Regulation 85 states the circumstances in which detainees may be searched and provides:
(1) A detainee should be searched —
(a) on admission to the detention centre;
(b) immediately before discharge from the detention centre;
(c) on leaving or returning to a detention centre; and
(d) when transferring from one detention centre to another.
(2) A detainee may be searched at any time, and in such a manner, as is considered necessary at the time by the superintendent.
Regulation 85(2) accordingly gives the Superintendent a wide discretion to search a detainee, at any time, where such a search is ‘considered necessary at the time’. The manner of search is qualified by r 86 which provides that:
(1) A detainee may be searched using either a “pat” or “strip” search depending on the circumstances surrounding the requirement of the search.
(2) A detainee should be “strip” searched if there are circumstances giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that the detainee may be in possession of an item that could —
(a) jeopardise the safety, good order or security of the detention centre; or
(b) be used for self harm.
(3) At least 2 officers must be present during a search of a detainee.
(4) A detainee must not be “strip” searched in the sight or immediate presence of a person of the opposite gender.
(5) Where practicable, a detainee should not be “strip” searched in the immediate presence of another detainee.
(6) Any search of a detainee must be conducted with due regard to the decency and self respect of the detainee.
(7) Despite subregulation (4), a superintendent may direct that a search is to be carried out in the presence of a medical practitioner or a nurse.
(8) Whenever a detainee is “strip” searched, each officer taking a role in that search must forward a written report of the search to the superintendent.
The former Juvenile Custodial Services Rule 212 supplemented these Regulations along with Standing order 17 and Operational procedure 28. Notwithstanding the provisions of r 86(2), Standing order 17 makes strip search mandatory for detainees in the circumstances set out in r 85(1) (admission and discharge, transfer between detention centres and departure or return to a detention centre), on placement into an observation cell and ‘on such other occasions and in such manner as the Superintendent considers necessary’. All such strip searches are to be recorded.
Standing order 17 nonetheless provides for pat searches of detainees in other circumstances, including random pat searches after social visits. The practice of pat searching after social visits was confirmed by the Department as a minimum requirement. It was also said that ‘if Youth Custodial staff have concerns regarding the social visit, they may determine that a strip search is required. An example of such concerns is when a visitor has a history of passing contraband during social visits’.
Article 16 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.
Strip searches are invasive and even if conducted appropriately, they can be embarrassing and raise considerable feelings of anguish or inferiority, particularly for more vulnerable young detainees. It is clear that the conduct of a strip search, upon the reasonable suspicion set out in r 86(2), could not be regarded as unlawful or unreasonable. However, to subject detainees to routine strip searches before and after social visits, without a proper evaluation of whether it was needed in a particular individual case or situation was unreasonable and contrary to the intent of r 86(2) and international standards.