A Noongar grandmother has said she fears her teenage grandson could die if the West Australian government goes ahead with its plan to transfer 20 boys – some as young as 14 – from Perth’s Banksia Hill juvenile detention centre to a maximum security adult jail.
The government said it would proceed with the transfer because of disruption and damage caused by a “minority” of young people incarcerated at the centre.
The grandmother, who cannot be named because it would identify her grandson, said child protection authorities came to her door to tell her he would be moved to Casuarina prison from Banksia Hill.
She said the Noongar teenager struggled with mental health, self-harm and trauma after being shuttled between various foster homes and the streets.
“He’s been moved like a pawn … all his life … even picked him up off the streets after he kept running away,” the grandmother said.
Banksia Hill has been plagued by deteriorating relationships between staff and inmates, and a series of human rights concerns.
About 70% of the centre’s more than 100 detainees are Indigenous.
“I fear he is not going to live,” the grandmother said. “He has had three suicide attempts, that’s my biggest fear.
“I fear that being sent to an adult prison would push him over the edge … Him as he is; in his state of mind. I don’t think he’ll live long.”
She said the teenager had serious trauma and behavioural issues, but believed that he was not getting the intensive support required to help him cope.
“Something’s going wrong somewhere. Somewhere in the structure of the place something isn’t right.”
She said she knew detainees at the facility had destroyed and damaged cells but said “locking kids up” was compounding trauma and leading to further damage.
“Before he was a cheeky little smart mouth child. But now he’s a violent kid. He’s a violent teenager, very violent.”
Megan Krakouer of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, said attempted suicides and self-harm among detainees at Banksia Hill was reaching crisis point.
“In recent times, there’s been suicide attempts almost every second day,” Krakoeur said.
A recent report by the WA Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services found there were 24 attempted suicides at Banksia Hill between January and November 2021, and self-harm and threats of self-harm were on the rise.
The Noongar woman urged the state government to consider alternatives rather than transferring the young people to Casuarina.
“Youth justice has failed – what they’re doing is shifting the problem. They’re shifting the problem into an adult prison.”
The Department of Justice said a “small cohort” of detainees continued to cause problems at Banksia Hill.
“Damage to cells and infrastructure at Banksia Hill detention centre has persisted this week, and staff at the centre are continuing to manage the disruptive behaviour of a small cohort of detainees,” a spokesperson said.
The department said 30 cells were unfit for purpose and 100 had sustained damage, with costs expected to exceed $1.8m.
The most recent report by WA’s Inspector of Custodial Services into conditions at Banksia Hill found the centre was unsuitable.
“BHDC is not fit for purpose as a youth detention centre. It looks like, and in many respects runs like, an adult prison,” the report found.
It found confining detainees to small cells for long stretches breached international human rights standards and led to a rise in self-injury.
Detainees in the intensive support unit were spending on average less than four and half hours out of their cells in November, compared with nearly eight in February.
“This typically leads detainees to act out and increasingly there are more detainees self-harming,” the report said.
A rally in Perth’s city centre on Thursday is expected to draw hundreds in protest at the proposed transfer, which it is understood could begin as early as Friday.
The vast majority of children incarcerated in Banksia Hill are on remand or unsentenced. The custodial inspector’s report in 2020 found just 3% of young people detained were serving custodial sentences.
• In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. International helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org.