The Hon. CATHERINE CUSACK [5.16 p.m.]: The Minister for Juvenile Justice, the Hon. Tony Kelly, has said his department is a "downstream" agency. In other words, the Department of Juvenile Justice is at the receiving end of the justice process. By the time young people are in custody their lives have already gone off the rails; the crime has already been committed; and the courts have already considered the circumstances, reached a verdict and imposed a sentence. This is true only to a point. When the detainees are released back into the community, the Department of Juvenile Justice becomes an "upstream" agency. What happens post release is influenced by the success or failure of rehabilitation programs administered in the detention centre system and arrangements put in place to reintegrate young people in the community. On Monday during the estimates hearings I raised this issue of discharge and reintegration by asking questions about an incident involving a 17-year-old female who attended Campbelltown Children's Court on 26 April 2006 and who was unexpectedly released from custody. As a result she did not have her bag of personal effects at the court.
Juvenile Justice staff then arranged for the girl's bag to be packed by Juniperina staff and transferred to the Campbelltown office. The girl and her mother presented at the office the next day, collected the bag and returned to the mother's car. Inside the car the girl discovered that four medications belonging to another inmate had been placed in the bag. She began consuming the tablets, ignoring her mother's attempt to stop her. The mother ran into the Campbelltown office to seek assistance. Staff did provide assistance and sought to restrain the girl physically from consuming the medication. In the ensuing struggle, the girl became violent and assaulted a staff member. Police were called and the girl assaulted an officer whilst being arrested and was removed in a paddy wagon.
Campbelltown Juvenile Justice staff then contacted Juniperina to find out what medication had been consumed by the girl. They were advised the drugs were powerful anti-psychotic medication, including Seroquel, Lithicarb, Akinetian and Lamitrin. The medication was not mislabelled, as suggested by the Department of Juvenile Justice on Monday. Campbelltown Juvenile Justice staff immediately contacted police, who then transferred the detainee to Campbelltown Hospital, where I understand she was admitted and treated for a possibly lethal drug overdose. We learned from the Minister yesterday that as a result of the incident the girl was convicted of assault and received an 18-month sentence with non-parole period of six months. On appeal the head sentence was reduced to 12 months.
This incident raises disturbing questions about the Juniperina Detention Centre's management of discharge from custody. I am also concerned by the department's typical evasions of any responsibility for what occurred. On Monday we were told any errors were wholly the responsibility of Justice Health. Yesterday the Minister blamed the detainee, who, of course, is accountable for her own actions. However, she cannot be held responsible for the medication being in her bag, which triggered the episode.
All I know about this detainee is what the Minister told Parliament yesterday; that is, that she has "all the excuses in the world to avoid responsibility for her violent attack on the member of staff". I interpret this to mean that the detainee has suffered severe abuse as a child. The detainee has paid a penalty for her behaviour. The Minister assumes that what he calls "excuses" were raised by her defence lawyer and properly considered by the court. I hope that is correct. However, I am unwilling to make any such assumptions.
The questions I raised on Monday related to how another detainee's medication could have been given to this girl by the department, and why the department was arguing that it bore no responsibility at all for the mistake. The Minister's response has been to characterise this female detainee as unworthy to have the matter raised in Parliament. He has canvassed her personal and criminal history in the House in order to avoid the legitimate questions I have raised about the system. I understand from what the Minister told us yesterday that the girl is still in custody in Juniperina.
I know that my role in asking questions was grossly misrepresented by the Minister yesterday—and today I have the opportunity to say so. But the female detainee is in custody and has no such opportunity. I am in no position to comment beyond pointing this out. I know nothing of this girl beyond what the Minister has told Parliament. All I know are the facts of an incident that has embarrassed the department. My questions related to the incident, rather than to the personal issues concerning the detainee.
I do not believe that Minister Kelly is a heartless or stupid man. Indeed, to the contrary. But the statement he made to Parliament yesterday was inappropriate. He used his privileged access to the personal history of the detainee in custody to shield the department from embarrassment. I believe the Minister has been very poorly advised on this issue. The ultimate irony is that the Minister and his department—whose core role is to make young people face the consequences of their actions—are unwilling to apply this philosophy to themselves.