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Abuse of imprisoned children seen in NT 'could not happen in WA', union claims

By Rebecca Trigger, Sarah Taillier and Jacob Kagi for abc.net.au

The treatment of children in a Northern Territory prison revealed by the ABC's Four Corners program could never happen in Western Australia, the union representing prison officers says.

Video obtained by the ABC shows children in the NT's Don Dale juvenile detention centre gassed, tied to a chair and hooded, stripped and assaulted by prison guards in 2014.

Community and Public Sector Union secretary Toni Walkington condemned the "inhumane and brutal" treatment but said the same thing would never occur in WA.

"We sincerely condemn the behaviour of the Northern Territory officers in question and stress that behaviour does not happen within WA's juvenile detention system," she said.

"In fact, recent measures have been put in place to reduce force within Banksia Hill, by paring back strip-searches and handcuffing of youth.

"Youth Custodial Officers assure us incidences and treatment of youth detainees, as seen on Four Corners, has never occurred in WA."

However, last week, the union cautioned the changes proposed by the department did not suit a centre as large and complex as Banksia Hill.

A report into a riot in Western Australian youth prison Banksia Hill in 2013 found while there had been some advances, there was still room for improvement.

Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan found in the lead-up to the riot involving 60 boys at the facility there were staff shortages, escalating serious incidents and lax security, describing the situation as a "tinderbox" awaiting a spark.

Bring royal commission to WA, ALS urges

Aboriginal Legal Service WA chief executive Dennis Eggington said there was already extensive evidence of youths being mistreated in custody in WA.

Mr Eggington urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to allow the Royal Commission to be set up following the Four Corners revelations to look at jurisdictions outside the NT, such as WA.

"We've had a Banksia Hill so-called riot, we've got young kids being targeted by police and then not given any alternatives other than imprisonment, so I think it's justified in having a look at what's happening in WA as well," Mr Eggington said.

Labor's Corrective Services spokesman Paul Papalia said the system in WA had become a lot less transparent since the current minister Joe Francis took over the portfolio, and that he often had someone from the Minister or Commissioner's office monitoring whomever he spoke to.

Mr Papalia also noted some of the public responses had not been very sympathetic towards what they saw on Four Corners, despite the treatment of the children involved.

"People have been saying things like, 'well they deserved it', 'they committed crimes', 'they're in prison'," he said.

"Here's the thing; for decades our politicians have been telling Western Australians that the only way to solve crime is by locking more people up for longer periods of time and it is clearly not working."

Restraints, batons and chemical sprays not used in WA: Minister

Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis categorically denied this could happen in WA, saying juvenile custodial officers did not carry chemical sprays or batons, and restraint chairs and beds were not used.

"Children are held in custody for rehabilitation only, not to be punished or abused in the way we have seen," he said.

Education programs and long-term post-release mentoring programs ensured children were rehabilitated in Western Australia, Mr Francis said.

He said the number of juveniles in detention since 2008 had decreased from 171 to 135 today.

Of these, 99 were Aboriginal, and the state has consistently had one of the highest rates of Indigenous incarceration in the country.

Earlier report raised restraint use concerns

Acting inspector of custodial services Eamon Ryan said Western Australia had a high level of oversight, but a 2012 report had flagged concerns about the use of restraints in behaviour management at Banksia Hill.

He said handcuffs and physical restraint by guards during escort are used on youth detainees, as well as hoods similar to that used on a child in the Northern Territory, to stop staff being spat on.

"Obviously their use would be something that you would expect would be something of a last resort," he said.

"It would be used certainly as only a protective measure, and certainly not as a punitive measure."

WA Children's Commissioner Colin Pettit said WA's youth justice system had improved in recent years, but still had a long way to go.

"We certainly have a system here that's reforming," he said.

"But we do have some measures here that other states don't, that are independent offices, including this office, but also the inspector of custodial services and the ombudsman who do the checks and balances to make sure this does not happen in Western Australia."

Article source: abc.net.au.

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