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Ashley Youth Detention Centre Call for Closure

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Tags: Ashley Youth Detention Centre


I note in your previous answer, you did not restate your claim of last week that Ashley is a safe environment for young people. The independent Noetic report in 2016 strongly recommended Ashley's closure and replacement with two small therapeutic centres, north and south. Yet for political reasons in the lead-up to the 2018 state election, a decision was made to keep that blighted place open.

Three long-time staff have been suspended this year. Their working with vulnerable people registrations have finally been removed, and there is a cloud, as we understand it, hanging over a number of staff still at Ashley. It took months after statements were made about their treatment of young people for any substantive action to be taken against these three particular staff members.

Ashley is a sick place. It is failing young people, and it has for 98 years. Why are you ploughing on with the re-development at Ashley before the commission of inquiry, when you must know that building refurbishment cannot fix a broken model? You cannot put lipstick on a pig. Why are you not listening to the experts and putting those young people first, and helping to set a different path for youth justice so these at-risk young Tasmanians have a better shot at a good life?



Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question. I will highlight again that the redesign and reforms and the transition to a therapeutic model of care and setting involve bricks and mortar, but also culture, training, and the model of care that is being deployed within the Ashley Youth Detention Centre.

In response to some of the other issues peppered through the question, I note again that the three members of staff who have been stood down as a precautionary measure, pending ongoing investigations, those decisions were made by my department of its own volition on the basis of its own investigation of records and allegations from a number of sources. They are historical allegations and they have taken the precautionary measure. Any matters raised by staff or others will be treated with great seriousness and investigated fully. Even if they are historical matters, they will be treated as if they are current.

Ashley is a complex environment, and it is one where the safety of everybody is of paramount importance. The young people who are sentenced by courts to detention are themselves quite often being sentenced because of violent physical behaviour and crimes they have committed. Therefore, the Ashley environment is characterised by the need to keep people safe and it is a high-risk environment. It is full of high-risk people who present risks to each other, as well as being at risk themselves. We do not deny that.

The member referred to the work being done at Ashley. The physical work that is about to commence includes: softening of the entrance into the centre with a new gatehouse and visitors' reception and secure entrance points with improved visitor and family spaces; provision of step-down, independent and semi-independent living units which will encourage and develop life skills for residents as they transition out of the centre; improvement of all accommodation areas, including de-escalation, self-regulation sensory spaces and acoustics; new purpose-built professional visits, court, video-conference and counselling areas; a new creative arts and music room; and new recreation yards off the main accommodation units, which will also act as key de-escalation spaces for residents when required.

The member is correct; it is not all about the built infrastructure. We are rebuilding Ashley on the inside as well, and the team of people and the skills there, including the appointment of a learning and development officer to reform the learning and development systems at Ashley. This officer has implemented updated training with linkages to the quality improvement workforce development unit, to enable online training. A clinical practice consultant and support officer was appointed to lead clinical governance within Ashley by promoting and supporting high standards of ethical and professional practice. A key focus of the clinical practice consultant and support officer is mentoring staff, providing professional consultation, undertaking critical reflective practice and practice support. This position was made permanent in 2019.

In mid-2019, the position of assistant manager was also created to provide overall management and coordination of Ashley Youth Detention Centre operations, policies and programs. This appointment allows the manager of custodial youth justice to focus on high-level strategic development and infrastructure changes.

We are investing heavily in transforming Ashley from what it was, to what we need it to be, as a therapeutic facility with a therapeutic model of care at work in it. I do note that in the last fortnight there were questions raised about incidents where the claim was made that police were turned away from an incident involving young people at Ashley. My advice is that the police were not turned away. Instead, a process of de escalating that situation was deployed, which resulted in those young people being safely removed from the roof of the facility where they were holed up, without injury to anyone.

Ms O'Connor - And then what happened to them?

Madam SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr JAENSCH - This is an example of the Ashley Youth Detention Centre exercising its new model of care which is about de escalating those situations, not bringing in the law. Not bringing in strong armed tactics or police into that environment, but instead having ways of talking those situations down. I commend them for the work they are doing. I know it is challenging, and we have a way to go as well, but we are investing in transformation of that model.

Ms O'Connor also referred to the Noetic report. Again, I need to confirm that the option we are pursuing for redevelopment of Ashley is identified in that report as an option; option one, actually. There is a summary of that in the Noetic report, which identifies that it optimises the re use of existing facilities. It identifies that units can be redesigned to provide a more therapeutic environment, and to minimise unintended isolation for small, diverse cohorts such as younger residents, older residents, females or young female residents, pregnant adolescents and residents detoxing from drugs or alcohol. It provides options for young people to move to less secure accommodation on the site before release. It also identifies that residual facilities can be repurposed to provide additional services for youth at risk, including drug and alcohol rehabilitation and step down accommodation for low risk residents before release, which could then allow for intensive supports to re integrate young people back into their communities. It also highlights that the Deloraine site has significant amounts of under utilised space, which could be used for additional recreational and vocational training activities - particularly in the agricultural settings - to enhance the programs that are available.

This is exactly what we are doing, and we are rebuilding the model of care within the walls of Ashley. We are committed to doing this to the young people, and to working with our staff to ensure that they are meeting all expectations of what should be happening in a detention facility for young people. We are committed to it, we are delivering it, we will keep going with it.

I can also confirm in answer to the member's last question that the three Ashley staff members who have been stood down pending an investigation have not been involved in personal searches. We also provided that information as an answer to a question on notice from Estimates.