Cossack Art Awards winner Rose Barton criticizes decision to send teens to adult prison

The winner of a major West Australian art prize has taken aim at the state government over a decision to move a group of teenage offenders to a maximum security adult prison.

Rose Barton won the $20,000 overall prize at this year’s Cossack Art Awards for her work, Cossack Jail Cells and Tree Bark, about the treatment of people in the criminal justice system.

Ms Barton used her acceptance speech to raise concerns about a decision to send 20 young offenders from Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Center to Casuarina Prison.

“The government has announced that 20 kids will be transferred to a maximum security adult prison which is not OK and our young people need help, not harm,” Barton said at the ceremony on Saturday.

The Department of Justice announced it was relocating the “difficult cohort” to a new youth facility within Casuarina Prison after the “unprecedented destruction” of cells and attacks on staff at Banksia Hill.

A spokesperson said all the same services and support programs would be offered at the temporary facility.

They also said the young offenders would have no contact with adult prisoners and each individual would be able to return to Banksia Hill when assessed as suitable to do so.

Toilets have been ripped out of walls in a damaged prison cell
Inmates have caused significant damage to cells at the Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre.(Supplied: Department of Justice)

Calls for tailored treatment, rehab plans

But the decision has prompted criticism, with more than 75 community organizations signing an open letter from Social Reinvestment WA urging the state government not to send the boys to prison and instead create tailored trauma treatment and rehabilitation plans.


Ms Barton backed calls for an increased focus on justice reinvestment.

“What I believe in is locally-led responses, so it’s looking at those situational and environmental factors that make young people more likely to act in criminal matters in the first place,” she said.

“I believe cutting it off before it starts is really the way forward and I think we should increase funding towards primary prevention.

Reports emerged in June of damaged cells at the detention centre, when it was revealed in state budget estimates that about 100 of the 250 cells at Banksia Hill were too damaged to be used.

Two men looking at an artwork.
Rose Barton hopes her artwork will start conversations about the treatment of people in the criminal justice system.(ABC Pilbara: Verity Gorman)

Art starting conversations

Ms Barton, who’s based in Karratha, said she hoped her winning work would spark important conversations.

“It’s about provoking a different way of thinking in our community, which is based on human empathy and understanding of people and the situations that people find themselves in that make them more likely to offend,” she said.

“It gives me a lot of hope that people are on the same page and feeling the same things and are passionate about this in the same way that I am so hopefully it stimulates conversation and it stimulates action and that we can stand up to some of these wrongs.”

A woman smiling, standing in front of a winning artwork.
Jessyca Hutchens says the art awards continue to grow.(ABC Pilbara: Verity Gorman)

Palkyu woman Jessyca Hutchens was one of three judges who choose Barton’s artwork out of 300 entries.

“We were very interested in the message the winner had in her artwork,” she said.

Art awards celebrates milestone

The Cossack Art Awards is regarded as a highlight on WA’s cultural calendar.

It is also one of the richest art awards in regional Australia, with almost $90,000 in prizes.

A person looking at artwork hanging on a wall.
The Cossack Art Awards has earnedt its place on WA’s cultural calendar.(ABC Pilbara: Verity Gorman)

“It’s grown and grown and grown and it’s become a real institution,” Ms Hutchens said.

“It’s very exciting that it’s 30 years [old] because there are not many art awards that have gone on that long.”

The exhibition of works at the Bond Street Stone in Cossack is open to the public until August 7.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.