Juveniles in detention are being subjected to inappropriate routine strip searches, excessive use of force and overreliance on solitary confinement as a punishment, according to a youth custody review.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are disproportionately targeted by isolation orders
- The report’s findings could leave the NSW Government open to a class-action lawsuit, an expert says
- The State Government has already implemented half of the report’s recommendations
A review of juvenile detention facilities by the NSW Inspector of Custodial Services was presented to Corrective Services Minister David Elliott, alongside 60 recommendations, on Friday afternoon.
During the two-year review period, facilities routinely conducted strip searches outside the recommended guidelines established by the former inspector in 2015.
“The practice of searching young people by asking them to partially remove their clothes may be humiliating and distressing for young people,” the newest report said.
“This is particularly the case given that many young people in detention have experienced abuse.”
The review found confinement of a young detainee accounted for more than 70 per cent of punishments given by correction officers.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said isolation was ineffective because it locked out young people from education and a social support system.
It also disproportionately targeted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in detention, he said.
“One of the most disturbing aspects of the use of isolation as a punishment is that it is disproportionately used against Aboriginal young people, who are 33 per cent more likely to be punished by isolation than non-Aboriginal young people,” he said.
“[They] are not only ordered into isolation more frequently, they also face significantly longer periods in confinement than their non-Aboriginal counterparts.”
The review found reported incidents of the use of force by correct officers was inconsistent, with the type and amount of force used on juveniles being minimised.
In a small number of cases, correction officers had simply copy-and-pasted text from previous reports, with only the young people’s names changed.
The review noted a lack of follow-up by management in these incidents, with several detainees saying their complaints about the use of force led nowhere.
Government open to class-action lawsuit, lawyer says
The findings highlighted “systemic problems” in the juvenile justice system that could leave the NSW Government open to a class-action lawsuit, director of National Justice Project George Newhouse said.
“The inspector’s findings … they prove that the physical and psychological abuse and violence against children continues in youth detention in NSW,” Mr Newhouse said.
Mr Newhouse is representing children who were allegedly abused at the Banksia Hill Detention Centre, in Western Australia.
“I believe the kids in NSW would also have a right to take legal action against the NSW government if they were improperly isolated, subjected to unreasonable use of force or unreasonable strip searching,” he said.
The Corrective Services Minister said he welcomed the findings and said the Government had already started implementing about half of the report’s findings since 2016.
Mr Elliott said he has injected $1 million to implement de-escalation and training for youth officers and had introduced trauma and risk management policies.