When a child aged between 10 and 18 is found guilty of a criminal offence in Western Australia they can be sentenced to a period of youth detention. Western Australia’s only youth detention centre is Banksia Hill Detention Centre. It houses both males and female who are being held on remand or have been sentenced to detention.
Age of criminal liability
Children below the age of 10 cannot be charged with criminal offences in Western Australia. Children between the ages of 10 and 14 can be found guilty of an offence only if the prosecution can show that the child had the capacity to distinguish right from wrong.
Detaining young people
The Young Offenders Act 1994 sets out how the Children’s Court must deal with young offenders. The act provides that children must be held in a facility that is suitable for young people and must not have contact with adult prisoners. It also states that children should only be detained as a last resort and for the shortest time necessary.
What happens in youth detention?
Detainees aged under 17 are required to attend school while in detention. Detainees who are 17 can choose to attend school or alternately, to take part in vocational training programs. Psychological and social development programs are also available for detainees who require them. Young people in detention also do recreational activities such as sports.
Banksia Hill Detention Centre allows detainees to receive visits every day during specified hours. Parents and guardians can visit anytime during those specified hours, up to four times a week. Friends and relatives must have written permission from the detainee’s parent or guardian prior to visiting. Visitors under 18 must be accompanied by an adult who has been approved to visit the young person. Visitors are searched upon entering the centre as a security measure.
Young people at Banksia Hill are allowed to make phone calls to approved numbers and receive up to seven free phone calls per week. Phone calls to people other than parents or guardians have to be approved by a parent or guardian.
Youth detention in Australia has caused controversy in recent years, following revelations of human rights abuses in the Northern Territory’s Don Dale Detention Centre in 2016. Children’s rights advocates have called for the age of criminal liability to be raised, arguing that the criminalisation of young children further disadvantages underprivileged social groups and increases the likelihood of the young person coming into the adult prison system later in life. The overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in detention centres has also been cited as an indictment on the Australian youth justice system. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 53 times more likely to be in youth detention than their non-Indigenous counterparts.
In 2018, a damning report on youth detention in Western Australia was released, revealing that one-third of youth detainees in Banksia Hill had foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and 90% had significant neurodevelopmental impairment. The researchers suggested these conditions may have contributed to the criminal offending of those young people and that if these conditions had been identified and treated at an earlier stage, the children may not have come into contact with the youth justice system. The report has added weight to calls for state governments to provide greater support and healthcare to marginalised young people, rather than responding punitively to delinquency.
If you require legal advice or representation in a criminal matter or in any other legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.