The family of an Indigenous teenager who died after self-harming in youth detention say they are overwhelmed with grief that he died in a place “he did not belong.”
Officers discovered 16-year-old Cleveland Dodd 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.
Cleveland was taken to a Perth hospital in a critical condition and died soon after 10pm on Thursday in the company of family members.
“Our family is overwhelmed with grief as we come to terms with the unthinkable – the loss of our most beloved boy, who did not belong in that horrible place known as Unit 18,” the family said in a statement on Friday.
“Our boy should have been at home with his family who he loved, and who loved him dearly.
“Our boy deserved a future.”
WA Corrective Services Minister Paul Papalia said the boy’s death, the first of a child in juvenile detention in the state’s history, would be 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.
The WA Corruption and Crime Commission later said it had commenced an investigation after an allegation of serious misconduct arising from an incident on October 12.
“The commission has taken the unusual step of making a public announcement in relation to this investigation, given the extensive reporting, public interest and the seriousness of the incident,” Commissioner John McKechnie said.
Mr McKechnie said the issue of young people in the criminal justice system was complex and the commission did not have the power to inquire generally into that issue.
“Our jurisdiction is focused on the alleged conduct of public officers where that conduct meets the high bar of serious misconduct,” he said.
Claims the boy spent several days without being let out of his cell were not answered by the minister.
The family said it wanted answers.
“The coronial inquest into his death will take far too long to bring meaningful change, policy, and law reform.”
The family said their “beloved boy” had never self-harmed before being “unlawfully” locked down inside Unit 18, which drove him to take his own life.
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.
Mr Papalia said the government was committed to improving the facility.
Mervyn Abraham, a family member of the boy, said the system was theoretically supposed to take care of children.
“A 16-year-old, just in the early part of his adult life, he’s gone for whatever reasons and it just doesn’t make sense, the system was supposed to rehabilitate and protect, but it’s failing our most vulnerable, our future generations,” Mr Abraham told AAP.
Amnesty International has labelled the death entirely preventable, saying the premier has blood on his hands.
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”.
“I say to Premier Cook, is the death of an Aboriginal child a ‘necessary evil’ to you?” Mr Dillon said.
The WA opposition and the Aboriginal Legal Service also called on the government to close the facility.
John Pat, a 16-year-old was the first in Western Australia to die in police custody after being assaulted by police officers in 1983 in the state’s Pilbara region.
His death triggered a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deahts in 1991.
13YARN 13 92 76
Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905
Lifeline 13 11 14
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)