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Youth strip search reform in Tasmania

Legislation preventing routine strip searches of children and young people in custody has passed in Tasmania’s parliament.

The reforms follow a 2019 advice paper by the state’s commissioner for children and young people which recommended their banning.

The laws ensure searches are only conducted when necessary and are undertaken in the least intrusive way possible, proportionate to the circumstances.

“This is significant reform that protects the wellbeing and best interests of children and young people in custodial facilities,” Attorney-General Elise Archer said in a statement on Wednesday.

“(It is) in line with well-established human rights standards and principles, and contemporary best practice.”

Under the changes, only authorised ‘search officers’ can conduct searches and additional authorisation is required to conduct an unclothed search.

Specific information on searches must be registered for accountability purposes.

Ms Archer said although some searches are required to prevent harmful items entering custodial facilities, routine personal searches of young people had already ceased across the state.

She said the government is continuing to invest in alternative security strategies, including body scanners which are expected to be operational before the end of the year.

“The passing of the (bill) is a very important step towards creating a safer environment for our children and young people in custody,” Commissioner for Children and Young People Leanne McLean said.

“However … this is but one of many urgent reforms needed to ensure the youth justice system is fit for purpose.

“Wide-spread system reform and resourcing must be a priority now to achieve the much-needed therapeutic support services recommended by experts.”

Ms McLean’s 2019 paper cited government data showing no contraband was found during 203 unclothed searches of young people at Ashley Youth Detention Centre between June and November, 2018.

The state government will close the centre by 2024, partly in response to historical abuse allegations levelled at staff. It has insisted all current detainees are safe.

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