11 May 2023

'Significant increase' in number of children and young people detained at Bimberi

| Claire Fenwicke
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Bimberi Youth Justice Centre

The Bimberi Youth Justice Centre has seen an increase in the number of people detained and the length of time they’re detained for. Photo: File.

The number of children and young people who have been detained at Bimberi Youth Justice Centre has reached its highest level in five years, according to a new report.

The 11th Bimberi Headline Indicators Report was presented at the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday (10 May), containing data back to the 2018-19 financial year.

According to the report, 60 young people were being held there in the second quarter of the 2022-23 financial year – the largest number of people held during a quarter as shown in the data (although this doesn’t mean all 60 were detained there at the same time).

Of the 60 young people, 42 were under the age of 18 years, with three children aged 10 to 13 years.

In the current financial year to date, 111 children and young people have been detained at Bimberi.

In comparison, a total of 136 people were detained at the centre across the entirety of the previous financial year.

statistical chart

Young people detained in Bimberi by gender, age and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity, sex and age group. Photo: Bimberi Headline Indicators Report.

Families and Community Services Minister Emma Davidson acknowledged there had been a “significant increase” in the number of detainees.

“The government has committed further funding to support staffing at Bimberi while watching this current trend in increased numbers of young people in custody,” she said.

“Seven new youth workers commenced employment with Bimberi in December 2022 and an additional nine new youth workers commenced induction training in late March 2023.”

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Delving further into the data, the number of young people detained in Bimberi on an average day has increased from 8 in the first half of 2021-22 to 19 young people in the first half of 2022-23.

This number is calculated by taking the total number of custody days a person serves and dividing it by the number of days in the month.

What this number does show is that people appear to be staying at the centre for longer.

“This increase has also resulted in an increase in the total number of custody days served by young people, when compared to the previous financial year,” Ms Davidson said.

On the positive side, despite the rise in the number of young people in detention on an average day and an increase in custody days, there had been a slight decrease in the number of serious assaults or incidents at the site.

There were no category one incidents (classified as attempted suicide, serious injury, serious health complaint, escape or serious assault) in the first half of 2022-23, and there were 55 category two incidents (classified as all other incidents such as contagious disease, minor security breaches, fights, assault, significant disturbance and incidents involving visitors).

There was an increase in uses for force – up from 55 to 81 for the same time periods – but this was explained as a result of COVID-19 restrictions easing.

“This was largely due to an increase in occasions of leave and the use of mechanical restraints, such as handcuffs used to escort young people safely on leave in the community,” Ms Davidson said.

“With health services being open again, there was a significant increase in occasions of leave, up from 10 periods of leave in the first half of 2021-22 to 47 occasions of leave in the first half of 2022-23.”

According to the report, of the 81 uses of force in the 2022-23 financial year to date, 45 of these were for compliant use of force, such as escorted leave.

The rise in young people being detained also meant an increase in health segregations, as everyone entering the centre needs a precautionary COVID-19 test.

Overall, there were 105 segregation directions made in the reporting period, with an additional six safety and security segregations made in the same period.

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The ACT Public Advocate from the ACT Human Rights Commission attends Bimberi weekly to speak with young people about concerns they may have regarding their conditions.

A spokesperson said while the Public Advocate was concerned about the “sharp increase” in the number of young people detained, the reason for which was “unclear”, this number had fluctuated each month.

“However, the [increase in the] length of stays is likely attributed to the nature of charges laid and/or the time involved in processing the high number of young people in remand at Bimberi,” they said.

Region asked Ms Davidson why there had been such a significant increase in the number of detainees at the centre and what was being done to accommodate this.

“The clear majority of young people who come into Bimberi are there on remand. Decisions about arrest and eligibility for police bail are matters for the police and Minister for Corrections,” she said.

“The ACT Government is committed to ensuring the best possible outcome for young people in the ACT, including those in youth justice at the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre.”

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Should be renamed “Stalag Rattenbury”

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