It’s time to act — close Ashley now to protect Tasmanian children

A coalition of justice and social service organisations have united to urge the Tasmanian Government to immediately release all children detained at Ashley Youth Detention Centre to prevent further harm to their safety and wellbeing.

Two years since the Government announced plans to close Ashley, recognising the need for major systemic change, children remain locked up in a harmful facility with no firm date set for the transition to a therapeutic approach to youth justice.

Representatives from a coalition of justice and community leaders — including TasCOSS, the Justice Reform Initiative, Australian Lawyers Alliance, TasOPCAT Network, Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, JusTas, Community Legal Centres Tasmania, Prisoners Legal Service Tasmania, the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies, Colony 47 and the Tasmanian Human Rights Act Campaign — have written to the Hon Roger Jaensch, Minister for Education, Children and Youth, calling on the Government to release all children detained at Ashley to appropriate community-based facilities, to ensure they are not subject to further human rights violations and to promote their safety.

It comes as the Commission of Inquiry into the Tasmanian Government’s responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Institutional Settings identified Ashley as a facility where children continue to experience serious and prolonged harm.

“We can’t continue to hold children in a facility deemed unfit to care for them — a place described during hearings as ‘a monster,’ which Commissioner, Marcia Neave, recommended be closed as ‘a matter of urgency,’” said Richard Griggs, Convenor of the Tasmanian Human Rights Act Campaign Committee.

“The Tasmanian Government recognised this two years ago and, in that time, children and families have continued to experience abuse and serious harm at the hands of our institutions.

“While we welcome the development of a therapeutic plan for youth justice, we believe a truly therapeutic approach requires the immediate release of all children detained at Ashley to ensure their safety and wellbeing.”

The group has requested the immediate release of all children being held at Ashley by 26 September, when the final report and recommendations of the Commission is set to be released publicly.

“Continuing to hold children in this unfit institution, where they are spending 23 hours a day in cells, is an emergency that requires immediate action,” said Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Criminology, Rob White, TasOPCAT Network.

“These demands are not new. Rather, they have been reiterated by the Commission and by advocates and experts for several years. Government inaction represents a failure to protect human rights and dignity in the face of overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing and harmfulness.”

The Justice Reform Initiative recently released a report examining the strong evidence base for alternatives to incarceration in Tasmania, particularly community-led services which are proven to increase wellbeing, promote community safety and reduce recidivism.

The sector is capable and prepared to work with Government on the release of all children into the care of their communities, supported by appropriate service provision and substantial material resources.

“The evidence is very clear that sending children to detention increases the risk of re-offending and creates a pipeline into adult prisons,” said Dr Charlie Burton, Acting CEO of TasCOSS.

“It is time for all of us — parliamentarians from all sides of politics, community organisations, and civil society groups — to make the changes we know are needed.

“We are committed to protecting the wellbeing and rights of children and we stand ready to work with Government to develop a safe and effective plan for the immediate transition of these children into the community during this critical period.”

Tasmanian signatories include:

  • Prof Nicole Asquith, Director, Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies
  • Greg Barns SC, Prisoners Legal Service Tasmania
  • Ben Bartl, Policy Officer, Community Legal Centres Tasmania
  • Pat Burton, Advocacy and Campaign Coordinator, Justice Reform Initiative (Tasmania)
  • Dr Charlie Burton, Acting CEO, TasCOSS
  • Richard Griggs, Convenor of the Tasmanian Human Rights Act Campaign Committee
  • Rowena Macdonald, Tasmania President & Director, Australian Lawyers Alliance
  • Sara Maynard, SEWB Coordinator, Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre
  • Don McCrae, CEO, JusTas
  • Dianne Underwood, CEO, Colony 47
  • Emeritus Distinguished Prof of Criminology, Rob White and Dr Val Kitchener, TasOPCAT Network