Several boys who were part of the violent 2019 riot at Canberra’s Bimberi Youth Justice Centre, where a youth worker was stabbed in the face with a pen, have avoided spending extra time behind bars.
Three young detainees pleaded guilty to a range of charges over the incident, including assault, affray and conspiring to escape from lawful custody, outlined in a recently released judgement by the ACT Supreme Court’s Justice Chrissa Loukas-Karlsson.
The agreed facts of the case say that on 26 August 2019, a group of detainees planned to “rush” a staff-only area and steal keys.
In the chaos that followed, a male youth worker was punched in the head by detainees numerous times and another staff member received a cut to her arm.
The instigator of the attack, one of the boys sentenced in February, opened a door in the staff area to an adjoining room containing other detainees and said: “come on boys, let’s do this”.
The detainees continued to assault the male youth worker, including cutting his head with a screw and stabbing his face with a pen before smashing a computer drive over his head.
Other staff attempted to restrain the boys, who continued to struggle to get keys before the three before the court were eventually taken back to their cells.
While the instigator was resisting being restrained, he headbutted a female youth worker and said, “you know I don’t want to hurt you. Just, you know, f–k off”.
Later in August, the instigator said their aim was “to try and get out”, and the group was “trying to get the keys”.
“I was sick of getting locked in my room … Like, I get locked up in my cell anyway, so I wanted to make it for something that I’ve done this time instead of being locked in my cell all day for other people,” he said.
Weeks later, the two other boys said the riot had been planned that day, and the instigator had planned to escape and flee to Queensland.
In a victim impact statement, the male youth worker said that he “genuinely believed” he was going to die during the riot, and he was afraid about what would happen to his female colleagues who were also present.
“Before the incident, I loved my job. I enjoyed the challenges and was happy to be able to have a positive impact in the lives of the young persons at Bimberi,” he said.
But he said he is now unable to return to work at the youth justice centre and has been diagnosed with PTSD.
“I have pushed myself away from many of my workmates who are my friends,” he said.
“My life is a seesaw, with bouts of depression and extreme anxiety and hypervigilance and then back to normal.
“I feel I am not the same person I was before the incident.”
Justice Loukas-Karlsson said the violence was committed “against Bimberi staff who were simply trying to do their job”.
But, she said it was encouraging all three boys had taken steps towards removing themselves from their past criminal behaviour and were in the process of rehabilitating themselves.
When it came to sentencing, she noted the threshold for imprisonment had been crossed.
“Nevertheless, it would not be appropriate for any of the young persons to spend a further period in custody, in light of the importance of rehabilitation in this case,” she said.
Justice Loukas-Karlsson sentenced the boys to months in jail but suspended the sentences and imposed 18-month good behaviour orders.
Two other detainees were sentenced over their roles in the riot last July.