Youth Minister should state why a Board of Inquiry into Bimberi is not warranted
Youth Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has provided little reason for Canberrans to believe her assurances that institutionalised violence at Bimberi Youth Detention Centre is a thing of the past. She needs to state why a Board of Inquiry into Bimberi is not warranted in Canberra.
Last year, the Minister repeatedly assured the Assembly that Bimberi was adequately staffed and on track. It was later found that chronic staff shortages resulted in 125 operational lockdowns* in 2017. Ninety-five of these lockdowns occurred in just six months between July and December 2017.
In response to a motion to censure the Minister in August 2017 due to her poor handling of allegations of violence, the Minister assured the Assembly the incidents were in the past. She then went on to announce the creation of the Charter of Rights for Young People in Bimberi, supposedly to protect them from violence.
The Charter tells young people their rights, including; “you will not have force used against you or restraints used on you”.
But it was recently revealed that the number of assaults and the use of force in the detention centre has had a marked increase in the months following the creation of the Charter of Rights.
Assaults tripled in just six months between July and December 2017, and the use of force doubled in the same period.
I am not convinced that the Minister’s assurances should be taken at face value when they are often proved to be incorrect. Other than the Minister’s word, there is no evidence to suggest that this is a matter that has been dealt with.
Allegations about institutionalised violence in Bimberi Youth Justice Centre cannot continue to go unanswered.
The events that led to a Royal Commission in the Northern Territory are not dissimilar to those recently described by a former youth worker and also outlined in incident reports obtained by Fairfax Media.
It is time for the Minister to explain how she is ensuring Bimberi is appropriately staffed, and how her Charter of Rights is in fact protecting young people when the data clearly shows the number of assaults and the use of force is rapidly increasing.
Minister Stephen-Smith needs to show leadership and state why a Board of Inquiry into
Bimberi is not warranted given the repeated failures of the government to adequately
respond to allegations.
* An operational lockdown is when all or some detainees are secured in their rooms for a period of time because there is not enough staff on the floor.