A coronial inquest will investigate the death of an Indigenous teenager found unresponsive in a prison cell after a suspected self-harm incident.
Officers discovered the 16-year-old at the troubled Unit 18 youth detention facility at Casuarina Prison in Western Australia in the early hours of October 12 after he contacted them through the intercom.
The boy was taken to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth in a critical condition and died shortly after 10pm on Thursday in the company of family members.
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WA Corrective Services Minister Paul Papalia said the death, the first child death in custody in the state’s history, will be thoroughly investigated.
“A coronial inquest is as thorough and as powerful an inquiry you can get and (that) will now be the primary means of investigation of this matter,” he told reporters on Friday.
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Papalia said the boy’s family had not requested to meet with him but he was “happy to meet with them, but it’s entirely up to them”.
Claims the boy spent several days without being let out of his cell were not answered by the minister.
Papalia also dismissed reports the WA Corruption and Crime Commission were investigating the incident.
The department says it will fully co-operate with the coronial inquest.
The unresponsive 16-year-old was found in his cell at Casuarina Prison on October 12. Credit: AAP
Unit 18 is a standalone youth facility at the maximum-security Casuarina men’s prison.
It opened in July 2022 to house the most challenging juvenile offenders after major riots at the Banksia Hill youth detention centre.
Both Unit 18 and Banksia Hill have been plagued by high rates of self-harm incidents and detainees being placed into prolonged lockdowns.
Papalia said the government was committed to improving the facility.
“Unit 18 is not what I would prefer, it’s what we have,” he said.
“I’m going to make it better.”
Indigenous advocates have criticised the WA government for housing youth detainees in an adult prison but WA Premier Roger Cook described the arrangement as a “necessary evil”.
Staff and detainees at Unit 18 and Banksia Hill will be provided counselling and support services.
First Nations people seeking mental health support should contact Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander crisis support line 13YARN on 13 92 76 or 13yarn.org.au.
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.
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