A special unit for small numbers of high-risk detainees is to be set up at Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre at Kariong in the wake of a violent outbreak at the centre on June 9.
Public Service Association (PSA) Acting General Secretary, Troy Wright, said incidents at the centre up to and including June 9 were indicative of an “escalation of violence” throughout the Juvenile Justice system which was becoming a “crisis” situation.
“There was an assault on a staff member at Frank Baxter on June 6 or 7 which saw him having to go to hospital, although he was not admitted,” Wright said.
“The same week there was an assault on a staff member at the Cobham centre in Western Sydney which was even more serious resulting in facial fractures and contusions.
“These are two examples of an escalation in the frequency and severity of violent acts throughout the system.”
The attacks were followed on June 9 by an incident where up to eight detainees gained access to a roof at the Frank Baxter centre, setting some materials alight and throwing projectiles to the ground.
“It was an extremely volatile situation and our members are to be commended for containing it and getting home safely,” Wright said.
All of the inmates had come down from the roof by early the next morning, but Wright said the incident highlighted a lack of “behaviour management” at the state’s six juvenile justice centres.
“There is an assault and they just put the perpetrators on a plan and move them to another centre,” he said.
“For more than two years we have been saying this is totally inadequate.
“The department needs to establish a therapeutic centre for violent offenders, where they can be isolated and attended by psychiatrists and other professionals.
“This behaviour should be addressed while they are in custody, before they are released back into the general populace.”
Wright said when the detainees gained access to the roof, staff members made the legal decision to cease work in an unsafe environment under Work Health and Safety Regulations.
“They refused to work while at risk and this was their legal right,” he said.
An arbitration meeting later that day saw staffers return to work, having received a number of undertakings from the department, which the association felt was sufficient to ensure member safety over the rest of the long weekend.
Wright said he met with association members at the centre on June 12, where they devised a short-term plan to minimise risk over the next few weeks, centred largely around staff ratios and routine.
This was followed on June 13 by a meeting between Public Service Association officials and the Secretary for Family and Community Services and Justice, Michael Coutts-Trotter, which was also attended by various other interested parties.
Discussion of amendments to the Detention Centres Act continued and Juvenile Justice NSW agreed to dedicate the Bouddi unit at Frank Baxter to accommodate up to five high risk detainees with enhanced custodial supervision and specialised behaviour management services on site.
It was also agreed that two additional staff would be placed on the Youth Officer Centre Support team at Frank Baxter to bring down the increased tension in the centre and enable rapid response to any further incidents.
Wright said the PSA saw the moves as a promising development in the “long running dispute around workplace violence”.
Media statement, June 11
Department of Juvenile Justice
Interview, June 12
Troy Wright, Public Service Association
Media release, June 21
Public Service Association
Reporter: Terry Collins