Banksia Hill is a youth detention centre with an overwhelmingly Indigenous population and a notorious record of human rights violations. Detainees are regularly confined to their cells under “lockdown” conditions, which means that they are released from their tiny, suffocating rooms for only 10-30 minutes a day, as has been exposed by the ABC. One inmate spent 79 out of a total of 98 days in solitary confinement, according to Jesse Noakes in the Saturday Paper.
On top of this psychological torture are a myriad of other abuses. Dehumanising strip searches occur regularly, and former detainees have spoken out about children being dangerously restrained in suffocating positions and subjected to degrading, racist insults from prison guards.
An autistic girl detained at Banksia Hill was forced to sleep on a mattress covered with faeces and saliva, and was regularly restrained with handcuffs, leg shackles and spit hoods, according to legal documents related to a class action lawsuit launched against the prison late last year. Another teenage girl in the centre was forced to receive a contraceptive implant.
These are just the atrocities we know about; if the walls of Banksia Hill could talk, no doubt they would reveal much more.
Even officials from the state government’s own agencies have rebuked the conditions inside Banksia Hill. A report from the inspector of custodial services tabled in WA state parliament in April 2022 concluded that conditions inside the centre breach international human rights standards.
But with oppression comes resistance. The depth of the inhumanity in such a cruel and hopeless environment makes every act of resistance an assertion of humanity. Riots occur regularly at Banksia Hill, and that anger broke out again recently.
On the evening of Tuesday, 9 May, about 50 of the 91 children detained at Banksia Hill rioted. After lashing out at a youth custodial officer, one of the detainees managed to take a master key and release other children from their cells. Dozens rioted and burnt down parts of the hated prison. Some tried to escape, and others climbed on to the roof and fought to stay there into the morning of the next day, before being forced to surrender. On the roof of the facility, heavily armed officers in riot gear aimed rifles towards the children.
“In Banksia Hill, there’s nothing transformational, nothing reformative, nothing rehabilitative”, Gerry Georgatos, a leading advocate in the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery project, explained to Red Flag. “Facilities aren’t conducive to support—the intensive support you get is a cage. It’s a cage within a cage. The cells are three metres by three metres, basically arms wide length and a bit. They’re suffocating.
“They are rebelling because they’re locked up twenty hours a day. This is all the children, on average, locked up twenty hours a day all last year. A lot of them have given up, and they’re just fighting back and they’re crying out for help”, he said. “What they’re feeling is a sense of bleakness and hopelessness.”
In the aftermath of the riot, WA Premier Mark McGowan did not denounce the armed riot police brutalising detainees, but the children lashing out for their dignity and freedom. He said they had engaged in a “form of terrorism”. McGowan is from the same party, the ALP, that is fronting as progressive on Indigenous rights through support for the Voice to Parliament.
“To call it an act of terrorism when you are stripping away a child’s human rights is appalling”, Angel Rohan, co-founder of community organisation Break the Cycle, said to Red Flag. “It is in a person’s innate instinct to want to be cared for and looked after and to fight back when they’re being oppressed.
“The conditions are just so atrocious ... if I was stuck in those conditions, I would probably feel like rioting is my only way out.”
Speaking at a rally on Sunday, 14 May to protest the barbaric conditions inside Banksia Hill, Georgatos condemned the systemic abuses facing Indigenous people and pointed out that you get what you give: “You give hate—you get hate”.
Torture prisons like Banksia Hill should be burnt down. The children locked up there are victims of a racist system both inside and outside the facility. In contrast to the torturous system of cruelty and punishment defended and run by the state government, they deserve justice and support. Short of that, the Indigenous children in Banksia Hill need not just our sympathy, but our solidarity.