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Petty crimes, private jets and prison: How the WA government wastes millions punishing regional kids

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“It enables young people at Banksia Hill to learn firefighting exercises, first aid techniques, abseil, tie basic knots and navigate instruments and maps.

“It’s initiatives like these that can help these young people turn their lives around and provide them with some extra skills that will benefit them personally.”

However, Commissioner for Children and Young People in WA, Colin Pettit, said sending a child to detention, should always be a last resort.

“Wherever possible children should not be taken out of country locations and moved into Banksia Hill until such times as they are absolutely required to under the law, and it should be a last resort,” he said.

“We’re very much aware of the number of the children from the north that are being relocated to Banksia Hill and so we have concerns about them, particularly Aboriginal people coming off country, and we need to have a look at what are the alternatives for that to be overcome so that those young people can actually stay within their country and actually still be managed in a way that supports the community and the young person.”

Mr Logan said the McGowan Government had been taking steps to address previous troubles at Banksia Hill.

A report by the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Service in 2018 found that while the centre was making positive progress in stability, safety, morale and governance, staff still faced serious challenges due to WA only having one youth detention centre.

Mr Georgatos said in his experience, a children who entered juvenile detention, generally came out worse than they went in.

“We’re diminishing people, we’re taking them to the worst of themselves, fast-tracking that – and then we pay for it when we see the suicide toll of people, and we pay for it when we see the incarceration rates,” he said.

“It isn’t a psycho-social facility, it is a place of incarceration … it is not a positive experience.”

His comments come as a motion in the senate to raise the criminal age of responsibility to a minimum of 14 years old in Australia was voted down last month.

The minimum age a child can be charged is currently 10.

At any given time, around 150 children at in detention in WA. Credit:Craig Abraham

WA greens senator, Rachel Siewert, who moved the motion along with WA Labor and Indigenous senator Patrick Dodson, said criminalising young people created a vicious cycle of disadvantage.

“If we are going to have any chance at closing the gap we need a human rights based approach to youth justice,” she said.

Where has the money gone? A timeline of broken promises to WA’s most vulnerable children

In 2005, the Labor state government followed through on an election commitment and announced $34 million in funding for two new regional youth detention facilities to open in Kalgoorlie and Geraldton by 2008.

A year later, the plans were scrapped and $18.4 million of the funds committed to WA’s regional justice strategy were put back into the state’s coffers, labelled as ‘capital savings’.

Instead, $3.6 million reserved for the project was redirected towards an “alternative strategy” over four years including intensive support for at-risk juveniles, and the establishment of local bail accommodation options.

In 2011, the Barnett government pumped an unprecedented $75 million over seven years into the north west through its Royalties for Regions funding.

The Kimberley and Pilbara-targeted project was meant to keep young people out of custody if arrested, provide bail options for vulnerable children, and encourage police to favour cautions and referrals over charges.

Since the investment, the rate of youth offending and the number of children police referred to the courts, according to the most recent data available from 2016, has increased.

The data found in the five years to 2016, police could have diverted 88 to 96 per cent of offences by young people, but instead chose to divert less than half.

The Royalties for Regions funding targeting the north west was forecast to continue until 2018, however in the 2016-17 state budget, $22.5 million of it was cut.

Budget papers at the time stated the slash in funding was due to the state government undertaking a review of its service delivery.

As a result, the forecast $15 million a year was cut by two thirds, to around $5 million a year and by 2022, the funding will be gone.

The McGowan government 2019-2020 budget has allocated $300,000 a year over three years to the Kimberley Juvenile Justice Strategy, to address the reasons for juvenile offending.

Gerry Georgatos (second from right) says the state government’s policy is leaving vulnerable kids worse off. Credit:Jay Cronan

The Kimberley Juvenile Justice Strategy will aim to develop initiatives that deliver more flexibility in remand and sentencing options, prevention programs to keep youth out of the justice system, and create more educational and training options.

In March 2019, the state government also announced $2 million for a new Police and Community Youth Centre in Kununurra, $1.3 million for the West Kimberley Youth and Resilience Hub Project, and $500,000 for the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre to deliver cultural healing programs that build resilience in young people.

The Target 120 initiative, rolled out in late 2018, is a program also designed to reduce juvenile reoffending in WA by supporting up to 300 at-risk young people and their families.

Asked to provide up-to-date figures on regional youth offending rates, the Department of Justice said it was unable to due to “difficulties accessing total youth population data” in the areas.

WA Police were also unable to provide updated youth diversion statistics since the Auditor General’s damning report in 2017.

A separate 2008 audit into the cost-benefits of diversion conservatively estimated that police cautions were 90 per cent cheaper that directing a person to court, and juvenile justice team referrals were about 75 per cent cheaper.

It also found research showed the more frequently a young person was in contact with the justice system, and the more serious that contact was, the more likely they were to continue to offend into adulthood.

*The freedom of information figures provided by the Department of Justice are based on the last known address the department had recorded for each young person. This does not necessarily mean these young people were arrested and transported to Banksia Hill from this last known address.

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