16 December 2020: Calls to close the Ashley Youth Detention Centre grow

The Tasmanian Government has committed $7m dollars to upgrade the Ashley Youth Detention Centre (AYDC) amongst growing calls to close the AYDC altogether (ABC news 14 December 2020). At the same time, the Government also announced its annual progress report into its responses to the Royal Commission into Child Abuse recommendations which included a commitment to continue the redevelopment of the AYDC.

Unfortunately, a redevelopment will not exorcise the ghosts and deal with a toxic culture that has existed at the AYDC over decades. Reports going back to the 50’s (Inquiry into the Control and Management of Ashley Boy’s Home 1953) show that problems that are still endemic today were identified back then. Numerous subsequent inquiries have failed to resolve these issues which this firm, after speaking to about 150 former Ashley detainees, has identified as including:

  • Diverse resident mix in age and behaviour and the need for separation is frequently raised
  • Lack of cohesive information and data collection for residents to be shared with other government agencies particularly post-release
  • Staffing issues:
    • Male staff left to supervise female residents due to the difficulty in recruiting staff at a late hour
    • Youth workers have two roles in AYDC – mentor and rehabilitator and security personnel
    • Staff not adequately trained and staff shortages
    • Shortage of staff especially over night shifts
    • Lack of support after release from Ashley Detention Centre and particularly accommodation while detainees are on remand
    • The use of isolation only being used as a measure of last resort and to protect the individual and others
    • Aboriginal youth treatment and overrepresentation
    • Ongoing problems with strip searches, the application of lice/scabies cream, the use of isolation
    • Complaints of sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

Today 3 AYDC staff members have been stood down facing allegations of historical sexual misconduct. An inquiry which had been announced into the AYDC has been subsumed into the Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse which has been announced by the Government which will be looking at child sexual abuse across government departments. Whilst these steps are important, in the meantime, children are continuing to suffer whilst in youth detention.

Our firm has seen that many of our AYDC clients started on a pathway in child protection and end up in Ashley on their way to Risdon. Urgent steps should be taken now to address this pathway. Apart from the human suffering experienced by our clients and their families, from an economic perspective, any money saved by the Government by doing a cheap “redevelopment” job on the AYDC will be subsumed by the additional cost to the community of dealing with the life long trauma that we see many of our client’s have suffered and are suffering.

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