LET'S CLOSE MINDA
In January 1994 a report by the suicide prevention team in the Department of Juvenile Justice was submitted to the then Liberal Minister for Justice, John Hannaford. The report advised him that "...attempts at suicide and self-harm by juveniles occur with uncomfortable and, some would say, unreasonable regularity within NSW juvenile justice centres". After accurate record keeping commenced in 1993, 83 suicide attempts among the 500 children in detention were recorded in one six-month period. A few particularly troubled young people made multiple attempts of varying degrees of danger to their lives. Due to the diligence of custodial staff, none was "successful". The team concluded that large sections of Minda, a custodial facility for boys in Sydney, represented the greatest risk for inmates. Hannaford was informed that "In terms of the ... United Nations Rules and the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the extremely dilapidated and run-down condition of these units, together with their poor and inappropriate design, construction and finish, makes large parts of Minda veritable death traps.'".
The team was so concerned by what it saw that it recommended the immediate closure and demolition of large parts of Minda. Under Hannaford's administration, the report, along with its most important recommendations, was quietly buried. The stupid pre-election bidding war between Bob Carr and John Fahey to establish who was "tougher on crime" has further delayed the introduction of urgently needed reforms. Revenge and ratings-driven tabloid media announcers have not helped. Nor has the discrimination against boys practised by the police and Children's Court magistrates. These attitudes and practices make NSW one of the States most likely to jail its young males. Once differences in the population base are accounted for, boys of 10 to 16 years old in NSW are almost five times more likely to end up in detention compared with boys in Victoria. The resulting demand for places for boys prevents the closure of sub-standard and dangerous custodial facilities. It also prevents the diversion of resources into non-custodial programs aimed at breaking the cycle of crime. This is something custodial facilities - accurately described by the current minister, Ron Dyer, as "universities of crime" - fail miserably to achieve.
The NSW juvenile justice system currently fails to fulfil Australia's obligations to international conventions on the rights and welfare of children in custody. Its dilapidated facilities for boys represent a significant risk to their safety and welfare while also failing to offer them the same opportunities it offers girls for rehabilitation.
However unwitting, sexist behaviour by the police and the Children's Court magistracy militates against the provision of effective non-custodial programs and the long overdue closure of dangerous custodial facilities for boys.
To express your concern, write to:
Hon Mr Ron Dyer MLC
Minister for Community Services and Juvenile Justice
Level 14, MBF Building
97-99 Bathurst Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 267 1133 Fax (02) 267 9757 or 261 3290.
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