Bennett Brook disability justice centre hardly being used

Disability Services minister Stephen Dawson has announced an external review will be conducted into the Bennett Brook Disability Justice Centre
Disability Services minister Stephen Dawson has announced an external review will be conducted into the Bennett Brook Disability Justice Centre

JUST two people are living in the Bennett Brook disability justice centre despite the $8.47 million facility being designed to house up to 10 residents.

The Caversham facility opened in August as an alternative to prison for men and women aged 16 and over with intellectual and cognitive disabilities charged, with but not convicted of, an offence.

A Disability Services Commission spokeswoman said the two residents moved in on August 20, with the Lord Street centre staffed 24 hours a day.

“The actual number of staff on site at any one time varies depending on a range of factors, including the number of residents in the centre and the activities being undertaken by residents,” she said. “To ensure the ongoing safety and security of residents and the community, three staff are required as a minimum at all times.”

In relation to community concerns around safety, the spokeswoman said there had not been any incidents that could potentially affect public safety and centre security.

The spokeswoman was unable to discuss the two residents’ situations specifically but said each had an individualised development plan that considered their specific needs in working towards successfully reintegrating into their respective communities.

“A range of programs and services are available and these include assisting residents with developing life skills and positive behaviours, recreational programs, and individual counselling,” she said. “These are considered and delivered in line with an individual’s specific needs related to their disability.”

The spokeswoman said Bennett Brook was a significant step forward in the treatment of people with disability in the justice system deemed unfit to stand trial.

“Previously, people were issued with custody orders with no defined end date and placed in a prison system that did not have the expertise to manage their complex needs and unique requirements,” she said. “This meant they could spend far longer in prison than if they had pleaded guilty.

“The centre provides an appropriate and supportive option for people in this situation who have been assessed as suitable to live in a community setting.”

MLA ‘shocked’

BASSENDEAN MLA Dave Kelly is “shocked” the disability justice centre has only two residents and says it shows the demand for the centre is lower than the State Government anticipated.

Mr Kelly said it appeared the whole concept might be wrong.

“Like most people I am surprised that a centre that cost $8.47 million to build has only two residents,” he said. “It says to me that the demand for the centre is much less than the government thought.

“This is a further indication of how badly planned this whole project has been. Having one centre for offenders from all over the state may not have been right after all.”

Mr Kelly said because the centre was so close to schools and homes, the community should know how many offenders were in there and what they had been charged with.

“The more secrecy there is, the more anxious the locals will be,” he said. “I have no problems with the inmates being offered rehabilitation services in the centre but people are justified in being concerned if that includes visiting local shops and other facilities.”

Mr Kelly said on an aesthetic not the centre was even more imposing than he thought it would be. “It is not set back and it is very close to homes,” he said.

“I think the Premier is wrong when he says the community will be happy with the centre now it’s built.

“People will still be unhappy for the same reasons his government didn’t build the centre on the sites chosen in Cottesloe and Dalkeith.

“The government should have stuck to its original criteria of ‘not close to schools’ and ‘not close to residents’.