On 14 December 2017 Amnesty International Australia wrote to Western Australia’s Minister for Corrective Services alleging that a young person had been ill-treated at Banksia Hill Detention Centre. On 12 January 2018, Amnesty again wrote to the Minister alleging that another young person had also been ill-treated at Banksia Hill.
The allegations related to a period following some serious incidents of disorder at the centre on 4 and 5 May 2017 through to the end of 2017. The May 2017 incidents involved 16 boys who threatened staff and other young people, and caused fires and other substantial damage. Many other young people at Banksia Hill, both male and female, were frightened by these events. The incidents were only ended when the Department of Justice deployed its Special Operations Group who used flash bombs and chemical agent to regain control.
The damage was such that the site was unsafe for young people and staff for some days until broken glass and debris could be cleaned up. One unit was totally uninhabitable and another was badly damaged. The site was also not secure as cells and fences had been breached.
These events came on top of numerous other serious incidents in the second part of 2016 and the early part of 2017. The situation was high risk, high cost, and completely unsustainable. One of the responses to the May 2017 incidents was to introduce an ‘Intensive Support Unit’ to separately manage the small number of young people who had been involved in multiple incidents, and who were identified as ‘ringleaders’ or ‘troublemakers’. They included the two young people Amnesty wrote to the Minister about. The Department also transferred responsibility for the centre from its youth justice branch to its prisons branch, and abandoned a very poorly managed ‘Banksia Hill Transformation’ project.
To restore stability, ensure the safety of young people and staff, and rebuild staff morale and confidence, the new management team imposed a restrictive regime across the whole site. Activities and programs for all young people were limited, and their movements and interactions were tightly controlled. The regime was particularly tight in the ISU. The aim was to loosen the restrictions as the centre stabilised. Most of the young people had not been involved in the incidents, and they paid a high price for the misbehaviour of a few.
Given the events of 2016–2017, a restrictive regime was the only prudent short term option, and it undoubtedly helped to improve stability. It was also better to take measures that would ensure the young people could stay at Banksia Hill rather than run the risk of further damage that might have led to young people being transferred to an adult prison, as happened in 2013. However, benefits for a majority of detainees could never justify any abuses of a minority.