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Stark increase in operational lockdowns at Bimberi

The first Bimberi Headline Indicators Report shows the ACT government’s reliance on operational lockdowns to manage chronic staff shortages at Canberra’s youth detention centre.

There were 125 operational lockdowns at Bimberi Youth Justice Centre last year, indicating the staffing situation at the centre has been far worse than Youth Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has ever admitted.

On average, once every three days youth detainees were secured in their rooms, in many cases because there were not enough staff to look out for them.

These figures are in stark contrast to only six operational lockdowns between July 2015 and December 2016.

When the Canberra Liberals first heard complaints of understaffing a year ago, we questioned the Minister, who insisted staffing levels were adequate.

When asked if young people had ever been confined to their rooms because of insufficient staffing, she replied merely that detainees had on occasion been required to stay in their rooms “to cover staff meetings, training and lunch breaks.”

She also assured the Assembly that the occasional confinement had no impact on detainees’ education and training programs. Just months later, the Official Visitors for children and young people raised concerns about operational lockdowns and their potential to disrupt learning.

Only now have we learnt how common operational lockdowns have become. It is abundantly clear that understaffing is one of the main factors behind the extreme increase.

Concerns about staff and detainee safety should be a priority but should have resulted in a quick recruitment process, not in frequent lockdowns.

The Canberra Liberals were rightly concerned. It is disappointing that the Minister was evasive about the situation, even when given multiple opportunities to set the record straight.

It’s now up to the Minister to ensure the centre is sufficiently staffed.


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