Routine semi-naked searches to cease at youth justice centre

black ink hand

Last Friday marked a significant milestone for the dignity of children and young people in SA’s youth justice centre with the commencement of the use of full body scanners and the end of routine semi-naked searches.

Over the last two years our office has worked hard to advocate for the end of semi-naked searches, including the controversial use of ‘squat and cough’. These searches were routinely used when a child or young person was admitted to the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre, was returning from court or hospital, after visits from their family and friends, or were suspected of being in possession of an illegal or banned item.

The new scanners will be able to detect a broader range of banned items than previous devices and will limit the use of semi-naked searches to be used only as a last resort, bringing SA’s practices in line with other states and territories.

In our latest report, Great Responsibility: Report on the 2019 Pilot Inspection of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre), data shows that over a 12-month period, approximately 1087 semi-naked searches were conducted, which is an average of three per day. This practice is especially culturally inappropriate for Initiated Aboriginal men.

“As Training Centre Visitor, my staff and I have been working hard to see the use of this humiliating and undignified search method reduced, or abolished,” Penny Wright, Training Centre Visitor and Guardian for Children and Young People said.

“This really is a huge win for the rights and dignity of children and young people detained at Kurlana Tapa,” Penny said.

A young person in detention told us this week it was ‘good news’ semi-naked searches would no longer be routinely undertaken. Some staff also said the new scanners were a positive step in the treatment of the young people. We hope to get more feedback from young people over time as they experience the new technology.

We congratulate the Department of Human Services for introducing the scanners to the justice centre and for having the safety and dignity of the children and young people at the forefront when reviewing the centre’s practices.

Young people in detention speak out in inaugural inspection report

‘Phase 2’ artwork by young person during the inspection.

The children and young people in South Australia’s youth detention centre have spoken. Bullying, dignity, respect and the need for more cultural programs are some of the topics raised in our just released inspection report: Great Responsibility: Report on the 2019 Pilot Inspection of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (now known as the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre).

The report is the outcome of our first official inspection of the training centre, conducted in November last year. It represents the culmination of two years of hard work from our team in setting up the Training Centre Visitor program.

The voices of young people and the centre’s staff make for an honest account of life in the centre and are explored in detail in the report.

Our findings delve into whether the rights of the detained children and young people are being met and to what extent the centre’s environment contributes to its objectives of rehabilitation and reintegration of these young people back into the community.

The report contains 10 wide-ranging recommendations on how the centre can better provide for the needs of the young people, including a review as to whether there is an appropriate balance between a model based on security and correction on one hand and one that supports rehabilitation and reintegration on the other.

We give our heartfelt thanks to everyone who was involved in the inspection, specifically to the children and young people and staff who shared their personal experiences about what life in the centre is really like.

You can view the report in full.

We have also produced a child-friendly poster and brochure that offers a summary of what the young people told us and the recommendations we made in the report.

Art workshops inspiring more than just a logo

Artist and youth mentor Shane Cook

A group of young people in the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre (formerly the Adelaide Youth Training Centre) recently put their artistic ideas to paper in a series of art workshops.

The workshops gave the young people the opportunity to inspire a new logo for the Training Centre Visitor, as well as providing input into a larger piece of artwork to design and promote the Charter of Rights for Youths Detained in Detention Centres. The added bonus for the young participants was the chance to work with Aboriginal artist and youth mentor Shane Mankitya Cook.

Throughout the workshops, Shane provided the young people, who were selected based on their own interest in art, guidance on getting artistic ideas onto paper and exploring these further. He also shared his own experience of growing up – which he described as ‘full of adversity’ – and how he overcame these challenges through art and connecting with his culture.​

Shane said working with the participants was a great experience for him and everyone involved.

“I’m very passionate about helping others engage in mindful activities such as art, as I have experienced how powerful it can be for our mental health,” Shane said.

“Also assisting young people with an opportunity to create artwork that will then go on to be published is a great accomplishment. The participants engaged with the workshops really well. I am very proud of them and the work they contributed to this project,” he said.

The centre’s Programs Manager Paul Aardenburg was also pleased with the young people’s involvement in the workshops and Shane’s ability to quickly develop a great rapport with them.

“Shane shared his journey with the young people and reinforced to them that positive change is possible,” Paul said.

Shane will now take the ideas created in the workshops and build on these to develop a logo and artwork for the Charter, alongside a graphic designer. This work is part of a bigger project that is currently underway to develop some exciting branding for our office which we hope to launch in a few months.

We would like to thank the young participants, Shane, and Paul and his team for all their efforts in being part of the workshops.

Feedback from all those involved said the workshops were excellent and the young people were especially excited to see the finished product. We couldn’t agree more!

Artwork in the making.

 

Breaking down communication barriers in youth detention – the real difference “speechies” can make!


Senior Speech Pathologists Melissa Saliba (left) and Larissa Ashton

It is estimated 90% of young people in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) are at risk of having a language difficulty*. A language difficulty is when a person has trouble understanding what is being said to them and is unable to express themselves clearly through their words, sentences and stories. And the effects of such a difficulty can be devastating.

“A person ‘at risk’ of having a language difficulty means if they underwent further detailed assessment, it is quite possible they would be diagnosed as having a language disorder,” according to Senior Speech Pathologist with DHS’s Youth Justice Division, Melissa Saliba.

“When a person cannot communicate and process language well, they can become frustrated, and if they are not supported or their needs are not met, it can result in the downward spiral of disengaging from school and making poor decisions,” Melissa said.

Melissa is one of the speech pathologists working with young people in the youth justice system (including in the AYTC) as part of Youth Justice’s state-wide rehabilitation program. The program aims to give young people access to speech pathologists, psychologists and occupational therapists, to help improve their short- and long-term outcomes.

AYTC Senior Speech Pathologist Larissa Ashton said the biggest problem is that communication difficulties often go undiagnosed.

“A lot of young people don’t know they have a language difficulty and have just ‘survived’. They are also very good at hiding their issues,” Larissa said.

“For others who do know they have difficulties, they often don’t have the necessary supports and opportunities to overcome them. Quite often the first time a young person receives support is once they have been detained at the centre.”

Both Melissa and Larissa have been working alongside the psychologists and occupational therapist who work with the young people, to piece together a young person’s needs and identify what support they need.

“Rather than seeing a young person as misbehaving, we explore the underlining reason for their behaviour and identify what support they might need,” Melissa said.

Once a young person is referred to the speech pathology service, the team then work with the young person, their families, school and other service providers to create an overall picture of what the young person is doing well in, and where they need help.

“Once we have assessed what their communication needs are, we will work with the young person, in the visitor centre, the unit or their classroom, to identify ways to help overcome some of their communication difficulties,” Melissa said. “We aim to work towards a focussed goal – for example, meeting new people.”

“Young people are keen to hear the results of their individual assessment. Knowing they have a language difficulty helps things make sense for them,” Larissa said. “After a session they often ask when we will be back, so our engagement seems to be making an impact.”

The role of the AYTC’s speech pathologists doesn’t just include working with young people. The speech pathology team also works directly with AYTC staff and service providers (both in and outside the centre) who work with the young people, to help them communicate in a way that is accessible and can be understood.

“It can be as simple as adjusting the way they communicate, like by adding more visual context, simplifying their language and checking in with the young person to ask if they understand what is being said,” Melissa said.

Since their time within the centre, both Larissa and Melissa have noticed staff becoming more adept at noticing the signs of language difficulties and have changed the way they communicate with the young people.

In the future, the speech pathology team hopes to review the written policies and consent forms given to residents to ensure they can fully understand their rights and responsibilities while in the centre.

Due to the current COVID-19 restrictions, the speech pathology team – along with AYTC’s other allied health services – is continuing to provide services to the young people via phone. Work is currently underway by the AYTC and the Department for Human Services to obtain the equipment needed to provide these services via video calls.

You can see just what a difference targeted speech pathology made for a particular young person in the NSW youth justice system in this inspiring video.

Identifying communication difficulties

Here are some signs that a young person has communication difficulties:

  • often says “I don’t know” or “I forgot”
  • uses lots of vague words (eg “things” or “stuff”)
  • unable to paraphrase what you have told them
  • cannot follow instructions
  • avoids reading or writing tasks
  • avoids eye contact.

What can you do if you suspect a young person has a communication difficulty?

  • Simplify the language you use when talking to young people – use short sentences, avoid jargon and keep instructions brief
  • Try using images (e.g drawings, pictures, a few written words) when communicating to a young person
  • Check in with the young person to ask if they understand what you have said
  • Seek help from a qualified speech pathologist.

*This 90% figure is based on results from a language screening assessment undertaken as part of the 2019 AYTC screening project to assess the needs of the young people and look at what services they may need.

Call to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility

boy leaping in the air

Across Australia a child as young as 10 can be locked up in detention for breaking the law. Time in detention is meant to ‘teach them a lesson’ and to change their criminal behaviours, but all the evidence tells us detention does nothing to deter the child from committing future crimes. In fact, the younger the child is to have contact with youth justice, the higher the chances they have of further offending and starting on the path to a life-long involvement in the criminal justice system.

Last financial year, 51 individual children and young people aged between 10 and 13 were admitted to the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC). They were admitted a total of 131 times, meaning that on average, each was detained at the centre more than twice. It is important to note most children held in the AYTC have not even been convicted of committing a crime.

This raises a significant concern that these young children are not getting the right support they need to address their offending behaviours, both in detention and out in the community. Studies show that to help rehabilitate these young children they need access to family, culture, education, support for individual disabilities, and opportunities to promote healing from past trauma that many of this cohort have experienced.

There is a growing momentum in Australia to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14. This is supported by the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians and backed up by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child who late last year called for Australia to raise the minimum age. The just released documentary, In My Blood It Runs, is also calling for change.

The Council of Attorneys General has set up a working group looking into the age of criminal responsibility. Last month our office provided feedback into the review, urging the working group to raise the minimum age to 14 as we believe the current practices do not provide the best outcomes for these vulnerable and disadvantaged young children.

Outlined in our submission we stated that the number of children detained disproportionately affects Aboriginal children (for example, in SA during 2017-18, there were 37 Aboriginal 10-13 year olds detained compared to 17 non-Aboriginal 10-13 year olds).

Children with a disability and those in care also made up a disproportionate number of children detained. We know that in 2017-18, almost a quarter of those detained in the AYTC were in care at the time of their admission. What we don’t know is how many of those young people come from a residential or commercial care environment – this is something we will address in our next dual status paper (to be out in the coming months).

In the meantime, we are urging change to protect the rights of these vulnerable young children and to prevent them from entering the youth justice system in the first place.

You can read our full submission to the working group.

Investigation calls for review of isolation practices in Adelaide Youth Training Centre

A troubling new report into the treatment of two young people in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) has highlighted the need for Youth Justice to review their use of isolation and how they offer rehabilitation for the young people detained in the centre.

The latest Ombudsman SA report which was released early this week has criticised the Department of Human Services (formerly Department for Communities and Social Inclusion) for its treatment of two young people in the AYTC by subjecting them to inhumane treatment, including extended periods of isolation and solitary confinement as a form of punishment for their behaviour.

In 2017, based on concerns shared by our office, the Ombudsman investigated the treatment of the young males (both 17 at the time) who were confined to their cells for more than 22 hours per day. The young people were not provided sufficient access to exercise, education, contact with family and experienced a lack of cultural recognition and support.

Training Centre Visitor Penny Wright has expressed her great concern these practices occurred and says that these are not isolated examples of the inappropriate use of seclusion and isolation.

“Isolation and segregation can be very, very damaging – especially to young people who have already experienced trauma in their lives – that’s why there are serious restrictions on these practices.”

“As the Ombudsman noted, rather than this particular segregation always being a response to the young people’s behaviours, their poor behaviour was often actually due to long periods of isolation.”

The Ombudsman referred to the views of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry that-

“Punitive approaches to the management of youth justice services… are unlikely to resolve the behavioural issues of detainees; instead, they serve to reinforce the sense of mistrust experienced by many children and young people in custody. Without a trauma informed approach to the management of youth justice centre, at-risk children and young people will continue to face significant obstacles in their paths to recovery and rehabilitation, and staff in youth detention centre will continue to face significant difficulties in managing children and young people in their care.”

According to the Ombudsman, “A functioning youth justice system should not cause the young person further harm or contribute to their reoffending. The system should not do any harm to a young person and young people should leave the youth justice system in a better life position than when they entered it. In my view, the youth justice system failed [these two young people].”

The investigation concluded the treatment of the two young people was ‘unreasonable, wrong, oppressive, unjust and contrary to law’. The Ombudsman made 20 recommendations, all of which the Department of Human Services has accepted.

Penny acknowledges the department has made some improvements since these events in 2017 and has agreed to make further changes.

“I do think Youth Justice has a new willingness to look carefully at their practices and make real changes,” Penny said.

“We know of a number of young people with complex needs in AYTC today who will benefit if the department acts on these recommendations swiftly. As part of my role as Training Centre Visitor, my staff and I will be monitoring the extent to which the reforms are taken up.”

Report finds children in care overrepresented in youth justice

Almost one quarter of children and young people who are detained in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre are under the legal guardianship of the state and are likely to be living in large residential care homes, a new report from our office has found.

A PERFECT STORM? Dual status children and young people in South Australia’s child protection and youth justice systems is the first report from a series of papers looking into the disproportionate number of children and young people who enter the youth justice system from residential care.

The report highlights that it’s not that these individual children and young people are inherently ‘criminal’ but that systems make their criminalisation more likely.

This suggests the state’s child protection system is struggling to undertake its core function of keeping children and young people safe – a concern that our office raised last week in the wake of the release of our annual report.

This new report finds that inadequate planning, policy, procedure, and communication across government and non-government systems mean that children and young people in care who need therapeutic support are instead being drawn into the criminal justice system.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recently stated that Australia’s child protection systems are insufficiently resourced, resulting in poorly supported staff, inadequate placement matching, and excessive reliance on police interference and youth justice systems to manage behavioural problems without providing appropriate therapeutic intervention.

Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor Penny Wright states that each of these factors contribute to the overrepresentation of those in care entering the youth justice system.

Ms Wright notes these vulnerable children and young people have been exposed to significant trauma and abuse prior to entering the child protection system and are not being provided with the care and support they need to heal.

“Instead of being provided with the essential therapeutic care they need, these young people are being put into homes and looked after by inadequately supported staff with other young people who come from troubled backgrounds. The young people’s behaviour is ‘managed’ by police and the youth justice system, and then at the end of the day they are taken back to the same environment in which the criminal behaviour took place,” Ms Wright said.

“What these children and young people need is a system that focusses on their safety and well-being first and foremost, keeping in mind the difficult circumstances that brought them into the system in the first place.”

“As one dual status young person eloquently said: ‘They kept putting us in the same situation but expecting a different outcome’.”

Download the first dual status report.

Further reports from this series will be made available in the coming months.

Training Centre Visitor team wraps up pilot inspection

The Training Centre Visitor Unit has wrapped up its pilot inspection of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC).

As November marked the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is timely this inspection – which assesses the conditions and management of the children and young people who are detained there, and ensuring their rights are being upheld – was carried out.

Training Centre Visitor Penny Wright said the inspection is the cultivation of two years of hard work from the TCV Unit staff in establishing the TCV program and building relationships with the residents and staff.

“My dedicated team has worked hard, visiting the training centre every fortnight to advocate for the rights and best interests of the residents. Through this consistent visiting program we have been able to get an accurate picture of what life is like for the children and young people detained in the centre,” Penny said.

“By combining our learnings from the past two years with the voices of residents and staff we have heard during the inspection, we can create a better understanding of how to work together with Youth Justice to ensure the children and young people have a brighter future and have the capacity to reach their full potential.”

As part of the inspection, the TCV Unit staff met with AYTC residents, staff and management to talk about what life is like in the centre, covering topics such as resident safety, health care, cultural rights, respect and dignity, education and training, case planning and access to grievance processes. They also facilitated focus groups and reviewed documents.

Input from residents was enthusiastic and thoughtful and guarantees that our reporting can reflect their voices loudly and clearly.

Here are some of the things the residents told us:

  • ‘The health centre is my favourite place to go – it makes me happy and comfortable.’
  • ‘I like all the staff really’.
  • Respect is ‘talking to me normally and makes me feel good!’
  • ‘I am scared I will lose my grandpa while I am in here – and I am not able to hold his hand.’
  • Respect is ‘being believed and not made to be a liar.’
  • ‘I wanna pass that [year 11] and go do my SACE.’
  • ‘We should get more elders in.’
  • ‘The staff are heaps good. They talk to you in good ways, help you out. They care about you.’
  • ‘I identify myself as a young offender. The kids aren’t proud, they’re scared…’

We would like to thank the children and young people and AYTC staff and management for being part of this inaugural inspection and sharing their thoughts about what life in the centre is like for them.

Findings from the inspection will help shape the way the TCV program and future inspections are run and developed. The inspection also provides valuable experience as we gear up for the imminent introduction in South Australia of the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).

A formal Inspection Report will be provided to the Minister for Human Services for presentation to Parliament in early 2020.

Here are some of the artworks the residents created during the inspection.

Training Centre Visitor’s Annual Report 2018-19

The number of children and young people detained in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) in 2018-19 has decreased, although residents who are Aboriginal or in care continue to be overrepresented, according to the latest Training Centre Visitor’s Annual Report.

Here is a snapshot of the report.

The year by numbers

In 2018-19, there were 608 admissions to the AYTC concerning 299 children and young people. Of these 299 individuals:

  • each resident was detained on average, two times
  • 50.5% were Aboriginal
  • 31.1% were children and young people under guardianship, primarily from residential care
  • 19.3% were females
  • 64 admissions were for children aged 10-12 years (an increase from last year).

Issues of concern

Issues of concern summarised in the 2018-19 annual report had already been identified throughout the year during our visiting and advocacy programs and review of records. The Training Centre Visitor Unit accordingly had made recommendations (based on the voices of the residents) prior to this report, about these concerns, including in relation to:

  • semi-naked searches
  • complaint processes
  • isolation and use of safe rooms
  • inadequacy of Aboriginal programs and cultural support
  • resident right to privacy
  • female hygiene products
  • incidents and use of force
  • room standards
  • unavailability of critical data (e.g. no data is currently available for residents with a physical, psychological or intellectual disability).

Positive changes to enhance wellbeing and safety of residents

The following positive changes have been made by the AYTC staff and management to enhance the wellbeing and safety of residents:

  • a reduction in the frequency, and improvement in recording of semi-naked searches
  • introduction of a ‘Yarning Circle’ (cultural program) for Aboriginal female residents
  • the development of a Medical Locum Attendance Log that tracks each medical incident from point of identification to the attendance of a locum
  • recognition of the need to develop better understanding of the needs of African and Muslim residents through building relationships with their communities.

Advocacy

The TCV Unit received 48 requests for advocacy, with 40 suitable for TCV advocacy on behalf of 31 residents.

The main themes for individual advocacy matters were:

  • use of safe rooms, isolation and lockdowns
  • interactions and access to staff
  • unit transitions and routines
  • placement within the centre and lengthy remand.

The TCV Unit worked with the Guardian’s Advocates (who have a mandate for children in care) to address the needs of nine individuals who required advocacy about their care and treatment within the AYTC and in care.

Looking forward

In the 2019-20 financial year, along with our ongoing visiting program and review of records, we will be:

  • conducting a pilot inspection later this month
  • continuing to address the absence of advocacy protection of the right of children and young people in the justice system while they are outside the walls of the AYTC (currently we are only mandated to advocate and oversee the best interests of this cohort when they are physically within the walls of the centre). We have recommended that the TCV mandate should expand to include these children and young people, ensuring the role meets the requirements of OPCAT (which Australian must put into place in late 2020).

Read the report in full.

TCV Unit prepares for pilot inspection to be held next month

The Training Centre Visitor (TCV) will conduct a pilot inspection of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) in late November. Such inspections, which are independent of government, aim to monitor standards and prevent abuse in places of detention. They are common around the world and elsewhere in Australia.

This pilot inspection is the first since the establishment of the TCV role and has been designed to provide oversight of the management of the training centre and the conditions of residents in the context of the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth Justice Principle and the Charter of Rights for Youths Detained in Training Centres. Ultimately it is about ensuring the rights of the children and young people detained within the centre are being met and that the environment is conducive to meeting the objective of the Youth Justice Administration Act, including rehabilitation.

 What is the Training Centre Visitor Program?

The TCV Program was established in November 2017 to provide oversight of the rights of children and young people sentenced or remanded in custody in the AYTC. The role of Training Centre Visitor is held by Penny Wright (who is also the Guardian for Children and Young People) and she is supported by her staff in the TCV Unit to carry out functions outlined in the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016:

  • conduct visits to training centres
  • conduct inspections of training centres
  • promote the best interests of the residents of a training centre
  • act as an advocate for the residents of a training centre – to promote the resolution of issues to do with their care, treatment and control
  • inquire into and provide advice to the Minister in relation to any systemic reform needed to improve the care, treatment and control of residents or the management of a training centre, and
  • inquire into and investigate any matter referred by the Minister.

When is the pilot inspection?

The pilot inspection will be held over a week at the end of November.

How will the inspection be conducted?

Activities during the inspection week will include scheduled visits, individual interviews with residents, staff and management, focus groups and analysis of TCV and Departmental records from the past 12 months. These activities will be conducted at different times of the day and night, including the weekend, to give core stakeholders (e.g. residents and AYTC staff) the opportunity to be involved and have their say.

Information acquired, and observations made in the inspection process will then be complemented by information obtained through the TCV’s ongoing advocacy, visiting programs and reviews of records over the past 12 months. This will enable us to build a picture of life for children and young people detained at the AYTC during that time, not just those who are detained during the inspection week.

What will the inspection look at?

The inspection will address 10 Standards, and associated indicators, that have been drawn from the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth Justice Principle and the Charter of Rights for Youths Detained in Training Centres.

These standards cover topics such as resident safety, health and access to proper health care, cultural rights (particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, who are seriously over-represented in detention), respect and dignity, education and training, case planning and access to grievance processes.

The standards and associated inspection methodologies have been developed specifically for this pilot inspection process.

Is the inspection complaint with OPCAT?

The inspection has been developed  to meet the requirements of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). Australia finally ratified this international agreement to prevent mistreatment in places of detention in late 2017 and must put measures in place to implement its requirements by the end of 2020.

These measures include setting up a National Prevention Mechanism (NPM) that must be independent from government and responsive to the needs of those held in various ‘places of detention’, including youth justice facilities. The role and functions of the TCV in the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016 were drafted to complement OPCAT requirement. The pilot inspection has been similarly designed, to the extent that current resources allow.

What will happen after the inspection?

Findings from the pilot inspection will be analysed and documented in a formal report that will be provided to the Minister for Human Services for presentation to Parliament in early 2020.

The inspection is a milestone in the establishment and implementation of the Training Centre Visitor Program. As such, the formal report will detail learning from the inspection and related processes and also make proposals about how best the TCV program and an inspection regime can develop in future years.

More information

If you have any questions about the upcoming inspection please contact the Training Centre Visitor Unit at gcyp@gcyp.sa.gov.au or by phone on 8226 8570.