Prison bars

Damning report: Premier Andrews must act on abuse in Victoria’s youth detention centres

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews must end the abuse of children and young people, including children being held in solitary confinement in cells with no toilets. The abuse was revealed this morning in a report by the Commission for Children and Young People into the use of isolation, separation and lock downs of children in Victoria’s youth detention centres.

The report highlights disturbing practices at Victoria’s Parksville and Malmsbury youth detention centres and at Barwon adult prison, where children are being held despite the Supreme Court of Victoria’s finding that this breaches Victoria’s human rights charter.

The harrowing findings describe ‘children and young people enclosed alone between four walls with limited access to fresh air, human interaction, stimulation, psychological support and, in some circumstances, basic sanitation.’

The report finds that isolation, separation and lockdown of children are increasingly being used, sometimes for 24 hours or more, in breach of the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (Havana Rules).

Solitary confinement on Premier Andrews’ watch

“Isolation for more than 22 hours without meaningful human contact is solitary confinement and is absolutely prohibited for children under international law. Yet, on Premier Andrews’ watch, on more than 20 occasions children have been locked in isolation for almost every hour of the day and night. Premier Andrews must end this abuse immediately,” said Julian Cleary, Indigenous Rights Campaigner at Amnesty International Australia.

“This report’s findings about conditions of isolation are horrific, with some isolated children forced to relieve themselves in rooms that have no toilets,” said Julian Cleary.

The report also finds that many children who present with mental health issues or at of risk of self-harm are being isolated without adequate access to health staff, education or visitors.

Victoria following the dark path of Don Dale

“The parallels with what occurred at Don Dale are striking. People across the country and the world have been shocked at the abuses of children in Don Dale – and yet the Andrews’ Government has not learned from the horrors there. At the same time as the Northern Territory Royal Commission is airing sickening allegations of systemic abuse in that youth justice system, Premier Andrews is taking Victoria down the same dark path” said Julian Cleary.

Today’s report finds there were more than 50 instances when units were locked down for over 36 hours, forcing all children to remain confined in their cells or units. This is happening more frequently and more unpredictably due to staff shortages.

“It is hardly surprising that there have been tensions at Victoria’s youth justice centres if already traumatised children are being treated this way,” said Julian Cleary.

Aboriginal children traumatised

The report also finds that Aboriginal children are being isolated at disproportionate rates. Koori children make up less than two per cent of the population in Victoria and 16 per cent of children at Malmsbury, yet they make 30 per cent of all children kept in isolation.

Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) informed the inquiry that isolation, separation and lockdowns re-traumatise Koori children and young people, who struggle with being removed from country, family and community.

VALS told the inquiry that the incarceration of children and young people is “completely adverse to the nature of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural practices, and only serves to further contribute to the breakdown and decimation of cultural practices that began with the onset of colonisation.”

“This should be a wake up call to Premier Andrews that he needs to genuinely work in partnership with the Koori community, to heed the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and to invest in local solutions to keep Aboriginal children out of Victoria’s youth justice system,” said Julian Cleary.

United Nations scrutiny

Amnesty International is calling on the Victorian Government to urgently increase investment in ensuring that detention of children is a last resort; remove children from Barwon adult prison; end the use of solitary confinement and excessive lockdowns; and implement the recommendations of the Children’s Commissioner’s report.

Today’s report launch coincides with a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, who is travelling around the country scrutinising Australia’s dismal record on Indigenous people’s rights.

“The eyes of the United Nations will turn on Victorian Indigenous rights practices when the Special Rapporteur arrives in the state on Tuesday, and she surely will be dismayed by these abuses of children,” said Julian Cleary.