The South Australian youth justice centre linked to the prolonged isolation of children and multiple incidents of self-harm has again failed to improve its record-keeping, the state’s watchdog says, making it impossible for her to gauge the extent of its problems.
In a report tabled in state parliament on Thursday, the SA guardian for children and young people, Shona Reid, found the Kurlana Tapa youth justice centre only recorded about half as many incidents as it should have. This included cases involving self-harm or the use of restraints by staff.
The Training Centre Visitor’s (TCV) annual report found that while there were 33 medical emergencies involving hospitalisation, there were only reports provided for 14 incidents.
Guardian Australia earlier reported that the watchdog had warned children were self-harming at the centre to avoid spending up to 23 hours a day in isolation and that one lawyer had not been told for months that their teen clients had tried to kill themselves.
The report tabled in parliament on Thursday was highly critical of the record-keeping at Kurlana Tapa, the only youth justice centre in South Australia.
“These gaps in information compromise the Centre’s management of its own service provision, and exposes it to risks including: lack of oversight of behaviour management and de-escalation techniques; incomplete understandings of young people’s self-harm … diminished capacity to assess staff responses to incidents [and being unable to] monitor the wellbeing of young people in the Centre,” the report found.
“The TCV believes that greater rigour is necessary with respect to recording incidents that occur in the Centre.”
The report noted issues with body-worn cameras that staff were supposed to use to record incidents, and that CCTV footage was deleted after 28 days, as further barriers to transparency.
It also found the centre continued to fail to specifically monitor how long detainees were kept in isolation.
“Despite legal obligations to ensure young people are not isolated for extended periods, the Centre does not have capacity to collate and track the movements of young people,” the report found.
“While this data may be available in raw form (shift logs, incident reports, etc) proper understanding of a routine requires consideration of a variety of source materials, not easily accessed.
“As a result, there is no clear, centralised record of a young person’s movements during their time in the Centre.”
It noted there had been multiple recommendations from the TCV and bodies including the SA ombudsman for the centre to keep accurate records of isolation, as it does with the adult prison population.
“This leads the TCV to question: why is this possible for adults, but not young people?”
The report also found the centre housed more detainees in the past financial year than in 2021-22, despite the state budget forecasting a decrease in the centre’s population.
On an average day, the report found, there were 32 people detained, 90% of whom were on remand, meaning they had not been sentenced to a period of detention. In most circumstances, they had not been found guilty of the offences they were being detained for.
More than 35% were under guardianship, almost 60% had a known disability and almost 55% were Aboriginal.
Aboriginal youth at the centre reported there was a lack of support available for them to connect with their culture, saying that they saw “check-box” measures rather than meaningful support and engagement.
“You know what Kurlana Tapa means? New Pathways,” one 17-year-old said, according to the report.
“How … is this a pathway? They treat us like dogs.”