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Government action needed to protect children in detention

Children's Children's Rights

Joint statement from:

June Oscar AO
Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Social
Justice Commissioner

Anne Hollonds Australia’s
National Children's Commissioner

Lorraine Finlay Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner

The Australian Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned about the safety and wellbeing of 17 teenagers who were moved yesterday from Banksia Hill youth detention centre to the adult, maximum security Casuarina Prison in Western Australia.

This is not a safe or suitable option for these young people, many of whom have experienced cruel and degrading conditions already in their treatment at Banksia Hill, including long periods in isolation and inadequate care for their complex needs. They require immediate assessments for mental health concerns and appropriate, ongoing care.  

It is time for all Australian governments to change their punitive approach to youth justice in favour of systems that recognise the needs of children and provide them with appropriate care and rehabilitation. We must urgently prioritise trauma-informed programs of diversion and rehabilitative pathways.

The Commission has long raised these issues with state and federal governments. The Commission has urgently advocated for improvements to the youth justice system with the new federal government, and with the previous federal government. 

The community expects youth detention programs that are effective and well resourced. The current punitive approach does not keep our communities safe, with the evidence showing it leads to higher rates of recidivism. It is not an effective use of taxpayer dollars, and it fails to protect the rights of children.

Australia is out of step with rest of world, where many countries have systems focused on early intervention and diversion in place for young offenders. All the evidence shows these to be more effective approaches to rehabilitation and community safety.

The issue brings into focus Australia’s commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which mandate better protections for the rights of children in detention.  

National leadership is required, with cooperation from all Australian governments to ensure youth justice systems protect the rights of children, offer them real pathways to rehabilitation, use taxpayer money effectively, and protect the community through lower rates of recidivism.

Commissioner Oscar said: “Prison is no place for children. This approach will only perpetuate the cycle of trauma and youth offending”.

Australia’s National Children's Commissioner Anne Hollonds recently visited Banksia Hill Detention Centre and said, “This current crisis at Banksia Hill is just the pointy end of the long-term failure of child wellbeing policy and systems in this country.

“These are children in need of care and treatment for complex disabilities and serious mental health problems. Instead of receiving the care they need, these children are incarcerated in harmful conditions with life-long negative impacts on their health, education, and wellbeing.

“Other countries have found ways to support the welfare of children instead of imprisoning them. Australia needs to make our children a national priority."

Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay said: “The latest crisis at Banksia Hill is sadly not an isolated issue. The problems in our juvenile justice systems are well known and have been highlighted repeatedly over many years.  By failing to address these long-standing issues we are failing our children and our communities.”

For further information or to arrange an interview, contact the Australian Human Rights Commission via media@humanrights.gov.au or on 0457 281 897.