Tammy Solonec: Kids in cages – 300 days in an isolation unit
February 24, 2018
Author: Tammy Solonec
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Tammy Solonec is a Nigena woman and is the Indigenous Rights Manager at Amnesty International .
300 days is a long time to spend in an isolation unit, like a caged animal.
I’ve interviewed two boys who have spent long periods in isolation in the Intensive Supervision Unit (‘ISU’), previously called the ‘Harding Unit’, at Banksia Hill Detention Centre, Western Australia’s only children’s prison.
Tammy Solonec is the Indigenous Rights Manager at Amnesty International.
It is alleged that for about the first two weeks, the boys were not allowed out of their cells for more than 10 minutes a day. That their bedding was taken off them, that they were denied adequate education and health care, that they were subject to excessive use of force and restraints. That they were fed through the grill, and handcuffed every time they left their cell – including some family visits, which their families found highly distressing. And their recreation area for when they were let out of their tiny cells, cells the size of a single car park, was literally a cage.
One of the boys told me that he “felt like a dog”. Another boy told me he had self-harmed to cope with the abuse. One boy described his experience in a letter, saying: “I feel that I am being segregated and institutionalised. I feel emotional and going on visits to see my family hurts me too much. I don’t want my family to see me in so much pain.” No child deserves to be treated like this. We understand that three boys were moved into the ISU after a so-called “riot” in May 2017. The government had sent in a Special Operations Group with beanbag-loaded firearms and flash bombs.
One of these boys has now been living like this for over 300 days, remaining in the ISU. This degrading treatment is so damaging: holding children in solitary confinement as punishment has been proven to cause profound neurological and psychological damage, including depression, panic attacks, paranoia and anger. Amnesty International has concerns that the abuse of these boys amounts to solitary confinement, cruel inhuman and degrading treatment, and possibly torture.
It’s absolutely heartbreaking for their families. I have been working closely with Kylee Douglas, one of the boy’s mothers, to seek justice and protection for her son.
Two days ago she posted on Facebook a heart-felt plea for help:
“The psychological damage this has caused, has absolutely destroyed these boys.
The government has ignored our cries to release the boys from the isolation unit…
As a mum, I have pleaded, I have threatened, I have done all I can. I am now asking everyone to stand with me, my son and the other boys who have been severely mistreated. Please check in to Banksia Hill on Facebook, demand Fran Logan MLA to move these boys out of the ISU and #FreeTheBoysFromHarding and #StopSolitary.”
Since then, the internet has lit up with hundreds of people checking into Banksia Hill children’s prison and calling on Minister Fran Logan to move all young people out of the ISU, and to stop solitary confinement.
Whether it’s Banksia Hill (WA), Cleveland (Qld) or Bimberi (ACT), we know that children’s prisons around Australia have similar horrors to Don Dale. The allegations of torture, denial of food and health care, strip searching, excessive handcuffing, physical and sexual violence. And these children’s prisons are mostly filled with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, who are 25 times more likely to be locked up.
The solutions have been set out in many reports and inquiries, most recently in the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. Indigenous leaders and allies in the Change The Record Coalition have called for a National Plan of Action for kids to support families, focus on diversion, end the abuses with independent oversight, set national justice targets and increase the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years.
We need national leadership on youth justice: the Federal Opposition has said it, the Coalition of Australian Governments has acknowledged it, a Reachtel poll shows two thirds of Australians want to see the Federal Government take the lead on this.
Yet, the Federal Government’s response to the Royal Commission was weak. The voices of children who continue to be abused around the country, like Kylee’s son, remain silenced, forgotten.
Governments around the country must be made accountable, so we must raise our voices in support of Kylee and her son, for all kids who have been tortured and abused in prison, and demand justice for them.
Here are three things you can do right now:
● Check into Banksia Hill on Facebook and tag Minister Logan (@FranLoganMLA), ask him to move the boys out of isolation immediately #FreeTheBoysFromHarding, and to #StopSolitary.
● Call Minister Logan and tell him you stand with Kylee – you can follow this calling script.