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Teens assaulted, strip-searched in detention centre, class action alleges

Two teenagers inside a unit attached to a maximum security prison in Western Australia alleged they were discriminated against because of their disabilities and age, according to an affidavit from a solicitor hoping to add the proceeding to the WA youth detention class action.

user iconNaomi Neilson 27 July 2023 Big Law
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Casuarina Prison, the main maximum-security prison for adult men in Western Australia, contains a juvenile detention centre known as Unit 18, where 10 current and former detainees alleged they were unlawfully discriminated against by the minister, chief executive, superintendent and officers.

Two boys, both under the age of 18, have alleged they were subjected to lengthy solitary confinement periods and were kept from education programs, social opportunities with other detainees, psychological assessments and, in the case of one boy, hygiene products.

In an affidavit filed with the Federal Court, Levitt Robinson Solicitors senior partner Stewart Alan Levitt said they have suffered “loss and damage, including physical injury, psychiatric injury, economic loss, deprivation of liberty, discomfort, fear and distress, and loss of dignity”.


The applicants and group members also made tortious claims relating to battery, assault, false imprisonment and breaches of duty of care.

As there are similar allegations being run in the WA youth detention class action, Mr Levitt submitted to the court that it would be “most efficient if these proceedings were run together”.

In the affidavit, Mr Levitt explained the boys were transferred from the Banksia Hill Detention Centre as they had “exhibited complex needs, had significant offending histories and for months had been destroying infrastructure, assaulting staff and harming themselves”.

In the case of one of the boys, who suffers from a neurological injury and severe claustrophobia, he alleged he spent an average of 20 hours and 50 minutes in solitary confinement – including the overnight lockdown period – between 21 July and 19 August 2022.

While held in Unit 18, he alleged he was frequently subjected to “routine and excessive use of force”, subjected to strip searches and was kept from education programs, welfare checks and psychological assistance.

Part of his punishments allegedly included restrictions on telephone calls with family, the opportunity to shower, and a lack of hygiene products, including body wash, toothbrush and shampoo.

The other boy, who suffers from ADHD and AOCD, alleged he was routinely handcuffed even when visiting family members, strip-searched and watched by officers while he was showering.

A complaint was lodged on behalf of both boys but then dismissed by the Australian Human Rights Commission in March 2023.

The applicants have claimed the state of Western Australia failed to ensure there were appropriate treatment, programs and services for group members with a disability. They alleged they were also restricted from education services and facilities within the adult detention centre.

In addition to compensation, the applicants and group members are seeking a declaration that the minister, CEO, superintendents and/or officers engaged in unlawful disability and age discrimination.