Youth Detainees Riot at WA’s Notorious Banksia Hill Youth Prison on NYE

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Youth detention

Young inmates at Perth’s Banksia Hill juvenile detention centre rioted on New Year’s Eve, setting fire to two of the facility’s buildings.

Close to two dozen of the centre’s prisoners, who are generally aged between 10 and 17 years old, sat on a perimeter fences and roofs to watch the fires burn.

The riot occurred at the end of a year that had seen multiple media reports and court rulings condemning the harsh conditions that youths face in WA’s only child prison, with accompanying calls for the centre to be reformed or even closed down being made.

The McGowan government came under harsh criticism mid-last year, after it had moved 17 youth detainees, aged between 14 and 17, from Banksia Hill and placed them in Casuarina adult prison on 20 July, as conditions in the child facility were reaching crisis point.

Indeed, WA Children’s Court president Hylton Quail twice criticised the conditions at Banksia Hill and its treatment of detainees last year, as he found that children were being treated like animals, which included the overuse of unlawful solitary confinement upon youth inmates.

Youth detention

“Treated like animals”

Following a November Four Corner’s report on Banksia Hill, former WA Children’s Court president Denis Reynolds called for a Royal Commission into the treatment of youths at the centre, and he echoed calls for the notorious facility to be shut.

Last June, there were 110 youths detained at Banksia Hill. And its harsh conditions were disproportionately impacting First Nations kids, as 81 of the detainees, or 74 percent, were Indigenous children, despite their only making up about 6 percent of WA’s overall youth populace.

Judge Quail found in the WA District Court in February that a 15-year-old boy who’d been kept in a tiny isolation cell for 78 out of 98 days, had been treated “like an animal”, and he imposed a 12 month community order on the boy, as it was safer than sentencing him to more time inside.

The 31 December unrest at the facility, which involved 22 inmates climbing fences and rooftops while staff barricaded themselves inside, was brought to an end on the same day, with youths involved being referred to WA police.

Seeking recourse

Restorative justice advocate Gerry Georgatos and a number of other prison abolitionists launched a class action against Banksia Hill in August 2021.

The case involves around 600 former inmates seeking compensation over the rights abuses they endured whilst incarcerated in the centre.

Georgatos’ colleagues Megan Krakouer and Connie Georgatos are also working on the action, which is being led by Levitt Robinson Lawyers.

“A successful win in the court would ultimately compel governments to humane ways forward instead of a children’s prison, to a plethora of reforms and to a firmament of social care systems and supports,” Georgatos told Sydney Criminal Lawyers last August.

“A letter of intention has been presented to the state government. Testimonies are being collected from former detainees of Banksia Hill, which was established in 1997.”

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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