WA prisons are ‘barbaric dungeons’

A bombshell report in the West Australian has uncovered details of appalling abuse in Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre in 2022.

Extreme violence was used by prison officers against a suicidal 16-year-old boy. At one point, he was “folded up” by prison officers into a figure-four hold—when guards lie handcuffed children down on their stomach, fold their legs behind their backs, and sit with their full body weight on top of them. The practice is now banned in some states for its risk of causing asphyxiation.

Video footage of the incident shows the boy moaning in pain and sobbing throughout. While the squad “folded up” the boy, a commanding officer is heard in the background telling the team to “go hard”.

“The bodycam footage is genuinely shocking”, Amnesty International spokesperson Rachel McPhail said in a media release. “It’s devastating to see any young person in this manner, when they really need care and compassion.”

In a separate incident, a riot squad burst into the room of the same boy and transferred him to another cell with “three-point” shackles, which cuff the wrists and ankles in chains and padlocks, a separate chain linking them all together. The prison officers cut off the clothes he’d been wearing for two weeks and left the boy in the room, shackled.

“I’m definitely killing myself ... you treat me like a dog in this place”, the boy cried out according to the West Australian.

This was only the latest act of cruelty that has been brought to light from body cam and CCTV footage. Barely a month goes by without a new revelation about torturous conditions in the state’s prison system.

Last October, another 16-year-old, Indigenous boy Cleveland Dodd, died a week after self-harming in his cell. He was the first young person to die in Unit 18, the abominable youth wing of the adult maximum security Casuarina prison in Perth’s south.

Cleveland was not under proper observation, even though he had indicated several times that he was intending to self-harm. An internal probe into Cleveland’s death found that prison staff had faked welfare checks on him. When he fatally injured himself, prison guards were watching movies.

“This tragedy could have been avoided”, advocate Megan Krakouer told the ABC. “We have warned time and time and time again. The West Australian government is not listening.”

Children’s Court President Hylton Quail recently criticised the “unlawful manner” in which the Department of Justice runs Unit 18, including its use of lockdowns, when prisoners can be locked inside their cells for 24 hours or more. Quail described the prison as a “barbaric dungeon where children are deprived and dehumanised”.

Corrective Services minister Paul Papalia initially reacted to Cleveland’s death by defending the prison officers and bringing makeshift weapons confiscated from Unit 18 detainees to present as part of a speech to state parliament. The implication was that the violence against people inside Unit 18 is justified. Premier Roger Cook displayed a similarly blithe attitude when he described Unit 18 as a “necessary evil”.

Unit 18, Banksia Hill, and the entire prison system in WA is a monstrosity.

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