Amnesty call to shut Tas youth detention

An international human rights organization calls for the immediate closure of a detention center for Tasmanian youth described as having a culture of brutality.

The Ashley Youth Detention Center, which has been operating for more than two decades, was this week under the microscope of a commission of inquiry into the sexual abuse of minors in state institutions.

Former inmates said they were raped and beaten by guards, with one telling the investigation that his medications were withheld until he performed sexual acts.

The legal assistant, Rachel Ellyard, said the investigation had received evidence of abuse in recent years, saying the commission was open to believing that Ashley herself was a “monster”.

The state government announced in September that the center would be closed by 2024 and replaced by two smaller structures.

Amnesty International wrote to Tasmanian Justice Minister Elise Archer on Friday, urging her to consider the closure of the center as a “matter of urgency”.

“The latest allegations are part of a larger pattern of horrors that have occurred behind the closed gates of Tasmania’s only youth detention center for many decades,” said indigenous activist Maggie Munn’s letter.

Ashley has a capacity of around 50 inmates, but has held 10-15 children at any one time in recent years, the investigation was told.

Amnesty also called for the immediate release of children in custody and Aboriginal-led trauma-informed diversion programs.

The investigation was informed Friday that an Ashley staff member accused of historical sexual assault against an inmate worked for months while an investigation was taking place.

Custodial Youth Justice director Pamela Honan passed the information to a cultural group in the department, but there was confusion as to who had the authority to dismiss the worker.

He said an attempted sexual assault of an inmate by other inmates was downplayed in a report by Ashley’s operations staff as “riding around”.

More than 100 former inmates this month filed a class action in the Supreme Court against the state government, accusing them of ill-treatment including rape.

Ms. Ellyard said the center had a “culture of brutality” and that numerous reports to the state government that raised concerns had not been adequately followed up.

The investigation, launched after charges against Ashley’s workers and other state officials were made public, will examine the center for another five days starting Monday.

The state government was contacted for comment.

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