WA government could have prevented death of Aboriginal child on remand in adult prison

Amnesty International Australia expresses horror and sorrow at the death in custody of a 16-year-old Aboriginal child, who was incarcerated at the Casuarina high-security prison in WA. The child was being held on remand in the dangerous Unit 18 centre at Casuarina and had not been convicted of a crime.

WA Premier Roger Cook and Corrective Services Minister Paul Papalia have ignored repeated warnings that the children incarcerated at Unit 18 at the Casuarina maximum security adult prison experience intolerable levels of distress, putting their safety at risk.

There have been more than 500 incidents of young people attempting suicide or self-harm in WA’s juvenile detention centre over the past two years.

Uncle Rodney Dillon, Palawa Elder and Amnesty International Indigenous Rights spokesperson said:

“Amnesty International extends our deepest sympathy to the family and community grieving the loss of this young boy. We mourn with you and are committed to fighting alongside you for justice.”

“The death of this Aboriginal child was entirely preventable. The blood of this Aboriginal child stains the hands of former Labor Premier Mark McGowan, Premier Roger Cook and the Attorney General John Quigley. They were told over and over that locking children in Unit 18 places them in acute danger but refused to act.”

“Make no mistake, if this was a white child the Premier would resign in shame and disgrace today. Australia’s racist history tells us that there will be no consequences for the WA government who oversaw the preventable death in custody of this Aboriginal child.”

“Earlier this month, Premier Cook said locking up Aboriginal children in the Casuarina adult prison was a ‘necessary evil’. I say to Premier Cook, is the death of an Aboriginal child a ‘necessary evil’ to you?”

Uncle Rodney Dillon, Palawa Elder and Amnesty International Indigenous Rights spokesperson

“The WA government must invest in long-term solutions that address the key drivers of violence in children in consultation with their families and communities, especially the well-being and mental health of young Aboriginal kids and it can start by diverting the millions of dollars spent on maintaining the youth detention centres into Aboriginal community-led diversion programs that actually work.”

Background

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the WA government to close the Banksia Hill youth detention centre and the Unit 18 compound at Casuarina maximum security adult prison.

In 2021, 30 countries of the United Nations Human Rights Council came together to condemn the human rights violations Australia perpetrates against children in detention centres and prisons.

In February this year, the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) was forced to cancel its visit to Australia after the NSW and QLD state governments denied the independent human rights authority access to inspect prison and detention facilities. The only other country in the world that has had OPCAT cancel a visit is Rwanda.

In January 2023, Australia missed the deadline to implement its commitments to the OPCAT convention. OPCAT was then forced to cancel its planned visit to inspect Australia’s prison and detention facilities as the body was denied access to facilities for inspection.

In 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council called on Australia to immediately end its incarceration of children under 14 and condemned Australia’s human rights atrocities perpetrated against children in youth detention.

In early 2018 Amnesty International called for the Intensive Support Unit at Banksia Hill to be immediately closed pending investigation, following serious allegations of abuse of young people which may amount to torture. Amnesty has consistently called for an end to the use of solitary confinement.

In December 2017, Australia ratified the OPCAT, which is designed to protect the rights, health and safety of people in any kind of detention including in prisons, youth detention centres, immigration detention, hospital, aged care and disability facilities.

In July 2017 the extreme suffering endured by children in Banksia Hill was revealed following findings from the Inspector of Custodial Services including the use of spit hoods, solitary confinement, alleged sexual assault, and soaring rates of self-harm and attempted suicide.

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