One of the State’s highest courts has deemed a teenage boy’s repeated confinement to his cell at Banksia Hill Detention Centre for up to 24 hours at a time unlawful, warning of the harm it could cause him and others “for years to come”.
After widespread lockdowns amid chronic staff shortages in January, February, May and June, the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA applied for a judicial review, with the boy’s case among more than 20 complaints it has submitted about other detainees and more set to follow.
The teen was held on remand for six months, spending his 15th birthday behind bars.
On his second day, he had just 10 minutes out of his cell.
On Thursday, Supreme Court of WA Justice Paul Tottle ruled that 26 occasions when the teen was confined for more than 20 hours at a time were unlawful.
On three of those occasions, he was locked down for 24 hours – all within the space of a week.
“The applicant was locked in his cell for long hours on successive days,” Justice Tottle noted.
“Between 4 and 6 February 2022 … the applicant was locked in his cell for approximately 70 of 72 hours.”
The boy’s solicitor complained to the Department of Justice in March, saying the lengthy confinement made the teen “feel mad, which often causes him to act out and get into trouble”.
“When he has been in his cell all day, (the boy) will ‘feel like the walls are coming in at him’ and his ‘head starts spinning’,” the solicitor wrote.
The solicitor was told that more staff had been hired and more were to come, and that other “progressive actions … to drive service improvements and achieve better outcomes for young people” were being undertaken.
In May, on a day when detainees were locked in their cells for nearly 10 daylight hours — about five attributed to staff shortages, four to the management of an incident and one to staff breaks — he damaged his cell.
The teen’s explanation for his conduct, which sent him to the intensive supervision unit for the second time, was that he became so upset and frustrated at only being allowed out briefly to make a phone call, he smashed up his quarters.
Justice Paul Tottle said that explanation was “instructive”.
The court was told the lockdowns that day were due to some detainees climbing onto the roof, while there was a “critical incident” in the ISU involving a detainee assaulting three custodial officers.
Justice Tottle noted his ruling “may cause practical problems, especially in light of the chronic staff shortages”, saying that was a matter that weighed heavily.
But so did the harm that may be caused to detainees by regularly confining them in the way they had been at Banksia Hill, he said, describing it as “an extraordinary measure – one that should only be implemented in rare or exceptional circumstances”.
“That harm may affect the lives of the detainees for years to come,” Justice Tottle said.
Shadow corrective services minister Peter Collier said everyone including the judge knew the road to rehabilitation was not through punitive action.
The Department of Justice would examine the detail of the judgment, a spokesman said.