Banksia Hill CCTV footage reveals violent restraint techniques used against teenage inmates – WAtoday


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The minister in charge of overseeing Western Australia’s only juvenile prison has refused to answer questions about the use of a “folding up” restraint technique on children or address calls for a royal commission into the treatment of children at Banksia Hill.
Corrective Services Minister Bill Johnston emailed a 400-word statement to media on Monday afternoon, which included the line: “it is not easy to get into Banksia Hill and most detainees are not first time offenders”.
He began the statement replying to questions about confronting vision from inside the centre by comparing the number of young offenders serving orders in the community (1278) to the number in detention (92) and said only 11 had been sent to an adult prison.
But Johnston did not respond to questions about his personal reaction to the vision obtained by the ABC’s Four Corners, or whether he believed the way the teens were treated inside the centre contributed to their behaviour.
He also did not answer questions about whether he was aware children were being “hog-tied” and if he would consider banning it, despite other jurisdictions like Queensland banning the use of “hog-tying” or “folding” interventions.
“It has never been an authorised practice in our youth detention centres,” a Queensland Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs spokesperson said.
“Based on the recommendations of the 2016 Independent Review of Youth Detention Centres, we moved to explicitly state in our policies that the practice cannot be used.”
Johnston’s office explained officers were authorised to use the “figure four technique” to safely remove restraints and exit a cell in situations where a detainee presented a risk to staff.
Officers were trained to use prone restraint techniques, but only as a last resort, and to consider all other alternative methods for resolution.
They were also trained to recognise and ensure that a restraint technique did not inhibit a person’s breathing.
As of September 30, there were 10 staff at Banksia Hill under investigation over complaints of excessive use of force, while 46 complaints have been investigated over the year to September 30. Two complaints were sustained.
The vision from inside Banksia Hill shows a teenager forced into a bare cell, thrown onto a mattress on the floor and restrained using a practice known at the facility as “folding up”.
The CCTV obtained by the ABC shows the boy thrown back into the cell, hands cuffed behind his back, before another officer twists his legs behind him, folds them back onto his body and sits on them.
In another video, a teenager pleads for officers to get off him as they pin him down, yelling: “I can’t breathe.”
“Stop resisting and I’ll ease it,” one tells him.
It’s proof of the treatment dished out to children and teens in the facility, which has been the subject of growing outrage among the state’s legal profession, Children’s Court judges, human rights activists, and researchers who proved sky-high levels of brain injury among the inmates and the families of young people who have been detained there.
The videos will be the subject of a Four Corners investigation, to screen on Monday, into the centre which has long been the subject of concerns and complaints about human rights abuses and houses children from age 10.
WA Premier Mark McGowan and Corrective Services Minister Bill Johnston have been content to continue their efforts to play down these concerns.
Under the Young Offenders Act, detention is the last resort for young offenders and on November 6, there were 1,278 young people serving orders in the community, compared with 92 in detention. Of these 92, only 11 were at Unit 18.
Young people serving orders in the community are able to stay with their families, continue with their education or employment and live life as normally as possible while complying with their orders.
Most detainees at Banksia Hill are genuinely engaged in their rehabilitation and are actively involved in education, mental health support and recreational services.
Other early intervention programs are also in place to help keep young people out of detention including the Target 120 program.
The Target 120 program focuses on a small cohort of high-risk young people identified at an early point in the justice system and aims to address underlying issues that may lead to offending.
It is not easy to get into Banksia Hill and most detainees are not first-time offenders.
For those detainees and staff at Banksia Hill, I’ve always acknowledged that last summer was a very difficult period.
This is why on 5 July 2022 I announced the gazetting of a new secondary youth detention facility to ensure the continued safety of staff and detainees.
Seventeen of the most difficult and violent cohort of young people with complex needs were moved from Banksia Hill to Unit 18 on the 20 July 2022. 
The standalone building at Casuarina Prison has provided an opportunity to address the challenges of this cohort of young people.
Since the move, there has been a significant reduction of incidents at Banksia Hill, which has allowed the other detainees to return to normal education and recreational routines.
Following the movement of young people to Unit 18 there was a 27% decrease in critical incidents and 72% decrease in non-critical incidents at Banksia Hill in August. 
The number of times youth offenders have assaulted Banksia Hill staff has also decreased by 85%.
Staffing issues have also been addressed, with 63 new Youth Custodial Officers recruited this year and a further 19 probationary officers due to complete their training by the end of the year.
The Department of Justice is currently prioritising upgrading cells and infrastructure at Banksia Hill Detention Centre, so all young people in its care can be safely accommodated and managed.
Unit 18 will cease operating as a temporary youth detention centre once these works are completed by 30 June 2023.
On Monday, after seeing the vision, former Children’s Court president Denis Reynolds called for a royal commission into the treatment of juveniles in detention.
“The truth has been lost here,” he told Radio 6PR.
“The department’s very secretive; not much information gets out. When it gets out it’s usually laid in spin and misleads the public.”
He pointed to the release by the government of a photo of the “lovely” meals area in adult prison Casuarina, where some teenagers had been placed after incidents of destruction at Banksia Hill.
“And yet the children don’t eat there. They are alone in their cell. They don’t have any social interaction with other detainees in that area, either,” Reynolds said.
He said children were self-harming frequently, with recent incidents requiring a child to be resuscitated and multiple occasions where a ligature needed to be taken from around a child’s neck.
Up to September this year, there have been 285 self-harm incidents, and 20 attempted suicides.
“So my thinking is that any day any night, we could be told that some young person has died, whether it be Banksia or Casuarina. It’s just a matter of time, I think, if we keep going the way we’re doing things at the moment,” Reynolds said.
He said the department had adopted a response to the behaviour of the children to harden the estate. More grilles, fences, razor wire.
“But the key to all of this is the regimes; the punitive, inhumane and unlawful regimes that have been inflicted upon the children,” he said.
“It’s more of a cultural problem.”
Reynolds said assaults against staff were the result of the inhumane treatment of the children.
A young person’s been in solitary confinement, no mental stimulation for 23 to 24 hours a day on a multiple number of days.
He gets out to have a shower and then is told to get back into the small cell.
And he says, “no, I’m not getting back in”.
Well, I would suggest that’s understandable. So a guard goes and grabs the child to put the child back in. The child struggles so then some reinforcements come and then before you know it, we’ve got three or four guards grappling with this young person.
Put him back into a small cell that he’s been in day after day for 23 or so hours every day.
This is the sort of thing that I think reasonably minded people would say, well, “I would expect that young person to arc up and not want to go back in the cell and perhaps be physical by trying to avoid being put back in there”.
“So I think we’ve got to the stage where it’s hard to imagine how we could get any lower to be frank, and I think the truth needs to come out,” he said.
“And I think the best way to achieve that is by way of a royal commission.”
National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project director Megan Krakouer has spoken to more than 600 people who were detained in Banskia Hill for a class-action lawsuit and said more than 90 per cent said they had been subjected to similar treatment to that depicted in the CCTV footage.
“It is shocking, it’s torturous, it’s a breach of human rights being perpetrated against young children,” she said.
“There is physical damage and harm that results from the psychological abuses when there are better ways of keeping the calm and the peace in the prison system in the first place.”
Amnesty International Australia Indigenous rights lead campaigner Maggie Munn said the McGowan government was “responsible for these babies, and you continue to expose them to an environment that will kill them”.
“This is not new information, Amnesty International Australia’s own investigation in 2017 raised concerns about torture in this facility – and it appears nothing at all has changed,” she siad.
“Countless reports sit on the desks of politicians in every state and territory in this country that point to how harmful prison is for children, and yet despite empty promises to commit to reforming youth justice, supporting First Nations kids, governments do nothing and our communities continue to suffer.”
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