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Opinion piece in The West Australian - Banksia Hill detainees moving to Casuarina Prison the result of successive government failures in social justice policies

by Jacqueline McGowan-Jones

Last week the Department of Justice announced that they had plans to move up to 20 young people from Banksia Hill Detention Centre to a maximum-security adult prison.

On Tuesday I inspected the wing at Casuarina Prison where it is proposed that children as young as 14 years are to be placed.

After viewing the facility, my concern about the decision is that a maximum-security prison is in no way a suitable environment for children and young people.

I acknowledge that Department of Justice has been working to improve conditions at Banksia Hill Detention Centre, with a number of initiatives and additional staffing, but advocate that we need to do more. There is an urgent need for investment in a trauma-informed model that supports the intensive needs of these young people, with particular regard to their mental health, physical health and social, emotional and cultural wellbeing.

I have been briefed on the planned arrangements to ensure education, health and other allied services will be made available to the young people. These are of utmost importance.

The vast majority of young people in the youth justice system have experienced significant trauma in their lives and may have cognitive impairments and other psycho-social disabilities.

This means that every decision made about them, and every response to their behaviour, needs to be aimed towards rehabilitation.

We need to look further than facility options and start to address the root cause of social disadvantage.

To reduce the number of children and young people in detention I call for an increased focus on a holistic child and family wellbeing strategy, which incorporates prevention, diversion and rehabilitation programs and more restorative justice approaches.

It is time to put a serious focus on supporting the wellbeing of future generations instead of reacting in crisis mode.

Restorative justice approaches are a crucial element missing for children and young people in Western Australia. Effective and consistent use of prevention and diversion programs is an important strategy that produces far better results for young people and the wider community than detention.

Casuarina Prison is not an appropriate facility for children and young people.

No child is inherently bad.

I understand that significant work is being undertaken to ensure that the environment is appropriate and safe, however, it is, and shall remain, a maximum-security adult prison.

Moving Banksia Hill detainees to Casuarina Prison is the result of successive government failures in social justice policies. While I acknowledge that this is the ‘least worst’ option to address the current situation, we must not allow this to become a long-term solution.

Published in The West Australian on 14 July 2022 on page 41 under the headline 'Don't punish Banksia Hill kids for failures of adult politicians'. 

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