No spinning Unit 18 failures

November 10, 2023 7:00 AM
Libby Mettam
WA Liberal Leader

Only a few short weeks ago, history was made in Western Australia for all the wrong reasons. 

Under this Government’s watch, our state recorded the first death of a child in custody in Unit 18 at Casuarina Prison. A death that was entirely preventable. 

There have been many warnings about the potentially devastating impact of this facility on the juveniles incarcerated there, in solitary confinement for up to 22 hours a day. 

Yet those warnings have been repeatedly ignored by Corrective Services Minister Paul Papalia and the Cook Labor Government. 

The former Premier Mark McGowan likened the inmates of Unit 18 to terrorists to justify their treatment.

New Premier Roger Cook has stuck to the script, describing Unit 18 as a necessary evil.  

As for the new Corrective Services Minister, it seems he’s fresh out of ideas too.

The day after Cleveland Dodd’s tragic death, the Minister was out telling the community that nothing would change at Unit 18 because “everything that can be done is being done”.

And when media investigations revealed several new distressing details about Cleveland’s death this week, he doubled down, insisting officers had done a good job. 

This is despite reports revealing the CCTV in his cell had been covered for hours and it took 13 minutes for staff to check on Cleveland, despite his warnings to officers that he intended taking his own life.

Despite reports that the officer who found him didn’t have a radio to call for help, so had to run to the supervisor’s office, who was allegedly napping at the time. 

That the vent in Cleveland’s cell was broken but hadn’t been fixed. 

For the Minister to suggest that everything that can be done is being done and to praise the officers for their response was either blatantly misleading or a demonstration of just how out of depth he is in this portfolio.

And just in case that wasn’t distressing enough for this grieving family, the Minister brought some makeshift weapons into Parliament this week in a disgraceful attempt to prove why these kids should be isolated in a cell for up to 22 hours a day. 

Perhaps, as Children’s Court President Hylton Quail has previously said: “When you treat a damaged child like an animal, they will behave like one and if you want a monster this is how you do it.”

There is no doubt that these juveniles are complex and that they deserve to do time for any crimes they have committed. 

No-one is suggesting they should be released back into the community early. But you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who agrees that locking juveniles up for 22 hours a day in an adult prison will lead to their rehabilitation and make for a safer community when they are released. 

It’s been almost 18 months since this government announced Unit 18 as a temporary solution.

If a bridge in a remote part of the State can be built in 12 months, it’s fair to ask why this government hasn’t prioritised critical infrastructure to be able to safely segregate these complex juveniles at Banksia Hill.

If this is the best the Cook Labor Government can do, then it is clearly not up to the job. A Government that does not know how to govern.

Perhaps the Corrective Services Minister is wearing too many hats with issues in law and order also continuing to mount. 

The latest WA Police crime statistics released this week show family and domestic violence offences are up 45 per cent compared to when Labor came to office and assaults are up 29 per cent for the same period. 

Yet at the same time, questions I asked in parliament have revealed the government’s so-called flagship policy of GPS tracking for these violent offenders when released from prison has been completely underutilised.

Only half of those trackers are being used with just 44 being used to track domestic violence offenders.

This was a policy announced in 2020. The inaction is unforgiveable, especially considering the number of women who have lost their lives at the hands of their former or current partners this year. 

Many of them at the hands of men who had been released on parole without any form of GPS tracking. 

Men like Luke Noormets who was in prison for kidnapping and torturing a man and then went on to murder the mother of his son when he was released. 

Or Earl Mongoo, who was also released early, without a GPS tracker, despite being behind bars for trying to set fire to his former partner. 

I can only imagine how a victim feels when they read their attacker is being released, without GPS tracking, despite the Prisoners Review Board stating there remains a risk to the safety of the victim.

It’s absolute madness and it’s clear our community deserves better.

The Liberals have already committed to doubling the number of GPS trackers for violent offenders, and we will make sure they are actually used. If elected, the WA Liberals will also strengthen the State’s parole laws to ensure violent thugs serve the entirety of their sentences. 

For those violent offenders who commit further crimes on bail, we will ensure they will not be granted the privilege again. 

We can’t live in a State where juveniles are locked in isolation in adult prisons while violent offenders who have committed heinous and unthinkable crimes are let out early without any measures to monitor them.  

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