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

Thursday 8th of August 2019 | Océanie, Australie
The Age
Nouvelle

Some of Western Australia's most vulnerable regional children are being flown to Perth on privately chartered planes to spend months behind bars on minor charges, only to be released unsentenced.

Freedom of information documents obtained by WAtoday showed 183 children were caught up in the process in 2017, with many eligible to be bailed by local police, but unable to identify a responsible adult into whose custody they could be released.

For a Broome child aged 10 to 14, it costs tax payers on average $33,000 in detention costs and around $11,000 for a privately chartered flight, and takes the young person away from their family, school and local support networks for an average of five weeks.

The same process for a South Hedland child aged 15 to 17, usually costs $55,000 in detention costs and $9,100 for a privately chartered plane, with the child spending seven weeks locked up.

The action is a result of the state only having one youth prison - Banksia Hill Detention Centre in Canning Vale - inadequate bail options for vulnerable regional children who cannot identify a responsible adult, and laws requiring children spend as little time possible in local police station lock-ups.

Asked what the state government was doing to keep regional children out of custody, Corrective Services Minister Fran Logan spruiked Banksia Hill as a place that provided educational, recreation and rehabilitative programs for young people.

His comments are amid a report that showed in 2017-18 one in every four children at the centre did not receive an education, with an assault occurring every 10 days, and a child self-harming every two days.

A Supreme Court of Western Australia ruling in March, also offered a rare insight into life inside WA's only youth detention centre, revealing an 11-year-old boy had suffered a fungal infection, and contracted scabies and lice due to “harsh conditions” at Banksia Hill earlier this year.

On average, 148 youths were in detention on any given day in 2017-18.

More than two-thirds were Aboriginal, with some from Indigenous communities in the north west where the average annual income for a person is around $16,000, and $45,760 for a household, according to the 2016 Census.

Trauma and suicide expert, Gerry Georgatos, said WA’s ‘draconian justice laws’ meant the government was spending more on criminalising a regional child for a minor offence, than it would cost to provide local, wrap-around services for them and their family.

“It’s unfathomable, it is impossible ... to even suggest that there is no responsible member in any community, no matter how small, that a child [eligible for bail] could be left with rather than be sent to Perth,” he said.

“We can’t even get the small social reforms right, we can’t get bail laws right, we can’t get social supports right.

“What would that sort of money have done if it was spent on the youth police up there being able to be resourced to help the young ones, or for social respite workers to be able to take children into their care and support them?”

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