Banksia Hill is a youth detention centre south of Perth, the only such centre for offenders aged 10 to 17 years in Western Australia. Staff shortages have seen the centre operate rolling 'lockdowns', with some young people forced to spend more than 20 hours a day in their cells. With many detainees suffering horrific and unmanaged trauma, the lockdowns posed serious risk of further harm.
Working with the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA and counsel Marina Georgiou, Allens assisted with an application for judicial review of the lockdowns to the Supreme Court. The application was made on behalf of a 14-year-old boy who was held at Banksia Hill on remand and had been subject to the lockdowns for many months. On 25 August 2022 Justice Tottle handed down the Court's decision, making a declaration that the confinement of the applicant on 26 instances between January and June 2022 was unlawful.
Associate Emma Boogaerdt along with a team from the firm's Disputes & Investigation practice in Perth has been working on the matter since February.
'ALSWA was deeply troubled by the reports coming out of Banksia Hill and came to us for advice as to whether there was any basis for challenging the lockdowns and applying for judicial review,' she says.
Following a hearing in the WA Supreme Court, Justice Tottle upheld ALSWA's claim saying that isolating children for such long periods of time could be characterised as an extraordinary measure and one that should only be implemented in rare or exceptional circumstances because of the 'very significant harm such confinement can do to children in detention, many of whom are already psychologically vulnerable'.
For ALSWA, Emma and the team, the decision was a significant and positive step towards restoring respect and dignity to young people at Banksia Hill and one they hope will help such facilities tackle the staff and skill shortages that precipitated the lockdowns.
'I hope the decision will encourage the Department to look at alternative solutions to manage behaviour in Banksia Hill as it's clear the lockdowns were not helping, and likely exacerbating, the issues there,' Emma said.
ALSWA CEO Dennis Eggington described the conditions at Banksia Hill as breaching human rights standards and calls for increased mentoring, medical and mental health support to address the behavioural issues.
‘These children deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, not locked in a cell all day with only 10 minutes out or none at all. They need fresh air, human connection, education and adults to mentor them. If they are provided with these basic things, they will not act out,’ he said.
In an article published by the ABC, the project director of the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project Megan Krakouer, who has worked with detainees inside Banksia Hill, described the situation as a "humanitarian crisis".
She told the ABC that 'some of them are children with so much unaddressed trauma, and they haven't received the psychological care they need' and that 'they need to send in caregivers who can work with these children after they leave prison. It will save lives.'
Allens continues to support the ALSWA.