Class action prepared against Tasmanian Government alleging abuse at Ashley Youth Detention Centre

Key points:

  • Nick was detained on remand at Ashley for two months, and he said it had a "massive impact" on his life
  • After interviews with 100 former Ashley detainees, lawyer Sebastian Buscemi is preparing a class action
  • The action will focus on excessive use of isolation, excessive strip searching, and the use of what is thought to be a scabies cream being applied to children's genitals

Nick* was 17 years old when he was detained at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre (AYDC) in the early 2000s.

He said he had "a night on the piss" that went wrong.

"It was a robbery where I probably shouldn't have been and I just got nabbed for it and put in Ashley," he said.

Nick, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was detained on remand at the AYDC for two months.

When he was sentenced, the judge asked why Nick was even taken to the AYDC. His sentence was non-custodial.

Nick said the two months he spent at the AYDC had a "massive impact" on his life.

"I don't even like to go into it. It's just stuff I'd prefer not to remember. I don't wish it on my worst enemy," Nick said.

Aerial photo of Ashley Youth Detention facility.
It's expected the class action will be filed in the Supreme Court in Hobart this year.(Supplied: Tasmanian Government)

Nick was on a very different path before he went to the AYDC. He was working full-time, playing football and said he was looking forward to a good life and a good career.

"When I got out, shit went bad. I turned to drugs, I've been in and out of jail still to this day," he said.

"[I] turned to pills, ice, whatever I could get my hands on — just to stop me thinking about things that happened [at the AYDC].

Nick will join a class action being prepared against the Tasmanian Government alleging abuse of detainees at the AYDC — formerly Ashley Home for Boys — near Deloraine, in the state's north.

Lawyer Sebastian Buscemi from Angela Sdrinis Legal is preparing the claims.

He said he decided to launch a class action after interviews with more than 100 former AYDC detainees, and children who were housed there because foster homes could not be found for them. Most were at the centre sometime between 1980 and 2010.

Sebastian Buscemi standing in front of the Supreme Court of Tasmania.
Sebastian Buscemi says isolation is meant to be used as a last resort and for as short a time as possible.(ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

The action will focus on three main allegations: excessive use of isolation, excessive strip searching, and the use of what is thought to be a scabies cream being applied to children's genitals, when the cream was not suitable for such an application.

"The volume of people we're hearing these allegations from would suggest that a lot of these practices were extremely widespread especially over those periods of time," Mr Buscemi said.

It will be alleged the government breached its duty of care because the practices were allegedly taking place despite policies, laws and regulations put in place to stop them.

"We've seen early government reports from 1925, 1953 highlighting problems [at the AYDC] that were repeatedly highlighted right up until 2016."

Human Services Minister Roger Jaensch said the Government would let the potential legal matter run its course.

"What I can be clear about, is that that's dealing with a period of history up to about 10 years ago," Mr Jaensch said.

"These days the Ashley Youth Detention Centre is part of a statewide therapeutic youth justice system, and we are taking a lot of trouble in investing considerable resources in converting it into a fit-for-purpose therapeutic youth justice facility."

Isolation, strip searching leading to 'further crime'

Mr Buscemi said isolation was meant to be used as a last resort and for as short a time as possible.

"We've found that children were placed in isolation for weeks, in some instances months," he said.

"Isolation is something that will really damage even an adult with a very good history of mental health.

"So a protracted period of isolation for a vulnerable child is going to cause significant psychological long-term problems and trauma — same as being strip searched, which can be very humiliating, especially the way it's been alleged they were often carried out."

Mr Buscemi alleged the use of isolation and strip searching had led to a variety of psychological problems for former detainees.

Mr Buscemi said it was difficult to know how many people might join the class action.

He said he expects to file the action in the Supreme Court in Hobart this year.

*The name has been changed.


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