SA youth detention centre use chairs to defend themselves during alleged attack by two teens

Staff at Adelaide’s youth detention centre “feared for their lives” and had to use plastic chairs as shields to defend themselves as two teenagers allegedly attacked them, the Public Service Association says.

Two 17-year-old male residents have been charged with property damage and aggravated affray following the alleged incident at Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre at Cavan on Monday night.

The incident unfolded at about 8pm after the two boys allegedly refused to return to their rooms from the recreation area within their accommodation block.

The Department of Human Services said about $5,000 damage was caused to the centre’s kitchen area but no-one was injured.

Natasha Brown, general secretary of Public Service Association SA, which represents workers at the detention centre, said she believed the incident was a direct result of understaffing at the centre which had forced residents to be locked in their rooms for up to 23 hours a day.

“They are so short-staffed on a regular basis, residents are left locked in their rooms for extended periods of time because they simply don’t have sufficient staff to open up and run the centre normally.

A woman with long auburn hair in front of a green background
Public Service Association of South Australia general secretary Natasha Brown wants staffing addressed.(Supplied: Public Service Association of South Australia)

“This obviously creates agitation and aggression among the young people who quite naturally don’t like to be locked up for that length of time and they’ve taken their frustration out on our members.”

Ms Brown said over the weekend residents were only allowed out of their rooms for about an hour.

She said the issues with chronic understaffing “predated COVID” but the department had failed to address the issue, recruit more staff or provide personal protective equipment.

“These kinds of incidents will only continue to increase,” she said.

A spokesperson for the department said COVID-19 and influenza had impacted staffing at the centre, with seven employees off sick on Monday night.

“As a result of unplanned staff shortages, the accommodation units operated under modified routines. This means residents were asked to return to their rooms earlier than usual,” they said.

The spokesperson said the department was in the process of recruiting more staff for the centre and was working with the union on staffing matters.

The Adelaide Youth Training Centre at Cavan
The Kurlana Tapa Youth Training Centre at Cavan in Adelaide’s north.(ABC News)

Safety equipment locked in cupboard

Ms Brown said said the Department of Human Services recently purchased shields for staff to protect themselves during such incidents but had not made them available to workers.

“Our members were forced to defend themselves with plastic chairs to use them as shields while at the same time real safety equipment sat locked in cupboard that they didn’t have access to,” she said.

She said she hoped the issues would be addressed as a matter of urgency when the union met with the minister next week.

The department confirmed it recently purchased personal protective equipment and would soon “roll out accredited training programs in its use to ensure the safety of staff and residents”.

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