Australia’s state youth detention system has been described as a ‘national disgrace’ as new evidence emerges of the harsh treatment of teenagers at a struggling Perth prison.
National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds said a task force was needed to address continuing problems with youth detention, adding she was pushing the attorney general to raise the age of criminal responsibility.
“It shouldn’t be left to the problem of states, we need a national approach like we have done, for example, with domestic violence,” she told ABC radio on Tuesday.
His comments come after new evidence of brutal treatment at Banksia Hill juvenile detention center in Perth emerged.
A video of a teenager being subjected to the use of a hogtie or bending technique – deemed to pose a risk of choking or death – aired Monday night on the ABC’s Four Corners show.
The technique involves a person’s arms and legs being forced against their head and officers using their body weight to restrain the individual.
The practice was banned in Queensland in 2017, while the Northern Territory Royal Commission into the Don Dale Youth Detention Center found it posed ‘significant risk of injury or death’.
Ms Hollonds said she was shaken by the new reports of abuse, but added it was no different from the “horrors” of Don Dale.
“What we need now is the responsibility to act,” she said.
The WA Department of Justice said prison officers were only allowed to use the folding restraint as a last resort when there was a risk to the safety of staff or other inmates.
Four Corners also revealed a report from the Board of Attorneys General, which was finalized in 2020 but never made public, recommended raising the age of criminal responsibility nationwide to 14.
“They know the truth that locking up young children doesn’t make the community safer… we have to go on now, it’s an absolute national disgrace,” Ms Hollonds said.
The Children’s Commissioner added that she had contacted Attorney General Mark Dreyfus and other ministers to raise issues about the youth justice system in the hope of seeing a federally led approach to addressing the issues In progress.
“I hope now that we can actually have this conversation about what we are doing nationally to transform youth justice in this country,” Ms Hollonds said.
Save the Children WA state director Amanda Hunt said no one – let alone a child – should be subjected to the abuse that was exposed at Banksia Hill.
“To physically control children incarcerated in this way shows a deeply concerning disregard for their safety and well-being, and a serious lack of commitment to their rehabilitation,” she said.
A group of organisations, including Amnesty International, medical groups and the Law Council of Australia, have campaigned for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14 in all states and territories.
The president of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Jacqueline Small, said more needed to be done to ensure children were not incarcerated for behaviors that were a direct consequence of their young age.
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