Unlike adults there has been no directive to cut funding to funeral attendances for young people and therefore no recent changes have been made to the rules governing attendance.
Where a detainee makes an application to attend a funeral the rules state that consideration is given to the degree of contact between the detainee and the deceased prior to and during the detention period. The cultural significance of the relationship, including any obligations for the detainee to attend, is also taken into account. The rules note that attendance is restricted to blood relatives or relationships of cultural significance except under special circumstances.
The risk of the detainee absconding, the nature of the detainee’s current and past offences and their behaviour whilst in custody are all taken into consideration when making a decision about attendance. In addition, the location of the funeral as well as travel, escort arrangements and costs are also considered.
An Aboriginal Welfare Officer (AWO) is responsible for obtaining information needed to assess the application for all detainees regardless of Aboriginality. This is done by examining information from other applicants including adults, discussions with the community, and discussion with the family. The developmental needs of a young person in learning their cultural obligations and how to cope among grieving relatives, may also be taken into consideration.
Recommendations are provided by an AWO, the Manager Case Planning and the Manager Security. The Director assesses the application approving or denying the attendance and the detainee is informed of the decision by the AWO.
One of the positive aspects of the rules is an acknowledgement of the specific needs of Aboriginal young people attending funerals. The rules state every effort should be made for an Aboriginal detainee to be restrained to an escorting officer who is also of Aboriginal descent. This is similarly the case for detainees and officers with regards to gender.
The rules are not comprehensive, yet the current application of the rules at the time of this review was appropriate and effective. Those making recommendations about the suitability of a young person to attend a funeral were open to challenge and debate about their recommendations and decisions. This process achieved consistent, robust decision making on who should attend funerals which is commendable. However this process relied on the good judgement and ability of staff to advocate on behalf of detainees and is therefore vulnerable to staff changes. To mitigate this risk the formal rules or guidelines should be amended to reflect the good practice that is currently in place. In particular the rules should ensure:
- An Aboriginal Welfare Officer is involved in decision making;
- There is proactive engagement with Aboriginal communities to assist in determining the significance of the young person’s relationship with the deceased;
- The impact on the detainees development, in attending or not attending the funeral, is considered when supporting the application;
- Decisions are open to challenge and debate by staff members, before a final recommendation is made to Head Office.
At the time of this review, the amalgamation of Rangeview Remand Centre and Banksia Hill Detention Centre had only recently occurred. Significant changes occurred to the centre management team and there had been considerable staffing issues with insufficient staff numbers at both centres for some time. These staff shortages impacted multiple areas of the centre, including the ability for young people to attend a funeral.
In October 2012 almost every funeral escort being undertaken was resulting in the lockdown of other detainees in order to provide the additional staff needed to escort the detainee. However, on many occasions even the lockdown of other detainees still did not provide an appropriate staffing level to allow the funeral escort to proceed. The lack of staff was often only known on the day of the funeral, resulting in a young person starting the day believing they would be attending a funeral, only to be denied attendance at the last minute.