Prison bars

NSW must learn from past failures – high-risk units don’t work

Responding to the announcement by the NSW Minister for Communities and Disability Services Gareth Ward that the NSW Government will “strengthen security” in youth prisons in the wake of an incident at the Frank Baxter Youth Justice Centre in July this year by introducing a high-risk units in that centre, and Cobham Youth Justice Centre, Amnesty International Indigenous Rights Manager, Tammy Solonec said:

“Introducing high-risk units is not only disappointing, it’s wrong. The same tactic was used in Western Australia’s Banksia Hill youth prison where it was an abject failure resulting in the mistreatment of children, including solitary confinement.”

Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights Manager, Tammy Solonec.

Amnesty International Australia wrote to Minister Ward shortly after the incident at the Frank Baxter Youth Justice Centre in response to media reports of the possibility of high-risk units being introduced. The letter warned that high-risk units caused further harm to children in Western Australia. The Minister has not responded. 

In its 2017 Inspection Report of Banksia Hill Detention Centre, the WA Inspector of Custodial Services found that boys in the Centre’s high-risk unit, known as the Intensive Support Unit “remained disadvantaged compared to the rest of the population”, saying “we continue to hold concerns about the regime, and particularly the isolation experienced by the two boys in the ISU. For much of the time their social interaction had only been with each other, and one or two other boys who had shared a wing with them in the ISU at various stages.” 

In 2018, Amnesty International raised concerns about the boys who were held in the unit. This resulted in an inquiry into which recommended reform of behaviour management practices, including the prohibition of solitary confinement. One of the boys was separated from others for more than 400 days. 

“We know that separating and punishing children often enables the abuse of those children such as by solitary confinement, separation and other punishments.” Ms Solonec said.

“It is extremely damaging for children to use such punitive measures. Ongoing support within youth prisons is what is needed: sufficient access to psychiatric, psychological and social support, access to education, access to family and visitors, and access to health services. 

“The Minister must revisit this ill-conceived plan. Why does he think it will work in Frank Baxter or Cobham, when all it did in Banksia HIll was harm children? 

“What the NSW Government should be doing is banning solitary confinement, improving support for detained children and staff, and ensuring that the detention of children is only used as a last resort for, especially young children.”

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