Force Scaled Back at Banksia Hill

Secretary Toni Walkington spoke to ABC's Nicolas Perpitch about changes around use of force at Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre.

She said although the centre is trying to replicate 'best practice' centres in the US - Banksia Hill is bigger and needs significantly more resources to be able to emulate those results with detainees.

As published on abc.net.au

Strip searches, handcuffs scaled back as Banksia Hill puts emphasis on juvenile rehabilitation

Strip searches of youths in Perth's Banksia Hill detention centre are being wound back as a part of an overhaul of the way detainees are treated.

Guards at the centre, which houses males and females aged 10 to 17 years in Perth's south-east, have also been instructed to only use handcuffs and other restraints as a last resort.

It is part of a new operating model being developed by the Department of Corrective Services to change the focus from traditional custodial methods to more rehabilitation and education.

Strip searches will no longer be routine and will only occur when there is clear intelligence of contraband.

The union representing youth custodial officers, who oversee the 137 juveniles currently at the centre, warned the safety of staff and detainees must be paramount.

The Community and Public Sector Union also cautioned the changes proposed by the department did not suit a centre as large and complex as Banksia Hill.

But the department's Deputy Commissioner Youth Justice Rachael Green said routine strip searches were simply not working.

Since February, routine searches, such as when youths are taken to the Harding punishment unit, have been abandoned.

"The actual routine strip searching actually had very little yield," Ms Green said.

"So, you know it was very rarely that we would ever find anything. So why would we put a young person through that process and potentially do more harm around their wellbeing, when we weren't finding anything."

Strip searches 'not justified'

The Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services had previously stated the high number of routine strip searches at Banksia Hill were not justified.

In a report last year examining changes at the centre since a 2013 riot when detainees caused widespread damage, the inspector recommended strip-searches be reduced by using other contraband detection measures.

The report found that between the start of 2014 and November of that year, more than 7,300 strip searches were conducted, but only six contraband items were found.

Previously, juveniles at Banksia Hill were handcuffed when juveniles arrived at the centre and were transferred from one location to another.

Ms Green said they would now only be used when the young person was a risk to themselves or other people.

"There has been a change of policy where a young person is calm, is settled, absolutely we don't use handcuffs, we only use them on the basis of de-escalation now," she said.

New regime a culture shift

Ms Green said the new operating model would use best practice from around the world and "put the young person at the centre of everything" to best meet their specific needs.

"That will be a real culture shift for our staff," she said.

Offenders would be referred to as "young people" rather than detainees and youth custodial officers would be "group workers".

"Beginning to soften the language and talk about care rather than custody," Ms Green said.

CPSU state secretary Toni Walkington said the language may be different but the department needed to back it up with extra resources and ensure any changes worked at Banksia Hill.

Ms Walkington said the best practice models referred to by the department were based on other jurisdictions, such as the US, with much smaller facilities and a less complicated mix of detainees.

"It's being applied, we would say, applied inappropriately in some senses, because the whole purpose of the type of operation the department is trying to introduce is purpose fit for much smaller facilities, and purpose fit for detainees with different security ratings, if you like or different rehabilitation and intervention needs," she said.

"So really it's not a case of just transplanting one thing into a different context."



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