Children and young people in Victorian prisons and youth justice systems are being damaged rather than rehabilitated through excessive use of isolation and separation, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass has found.
During her inspection of three Victorian facilities – Port Phillip prison, Malmsbury Youth Justice Precinct and Secure Welfare Services – earlier this year, Ms Glass found practices that were incompatible with local and international human rights laws.
Tabling her inspection report in the Victorian Parliament today, Ms Glass said: “Legislation and official procedures acknowledge that children and young people should be isolated only as a last resort and for the minimum time necessary.
“But we found the procedures do not translate into practice.”
“The direct impact is that many of the practices in both our youth justice and prison systems are likely to be contrary to law, incompatible with Victoria’s human rights legislation, oppressive, discriminatory or simply, wrong.”
At the adult Port Phillip prison – where there were about 170 young people aged 18-24 at the time of the inspection – Ms Glass found “an alarming number of instances of prolonged solitary confinement.
“In many cases we reviewed, the justification for separation seemed questionable and punitive,” she said.
“Young people were often separated for weeks in circumstances where there appeared to be little or no ongoing risk of harm to others; victims were separated for the same time as perpetrators; sometimes for months; and good behaviour did not appear to result in less separation.”
At Malmsbury, there were about 13,000 lockdowns (when a child or young person is isolated in the interests of ‘security of the centre’) during a 12-month period, with about 40 per cent attributed to staff shortages.
Ms Glass said it was disturbing to see a disproportionate use of isolation on Aboriginal young people, given it had been known for decades that Aboriginal prisoners subjected to solitary confinement suffer “extreme anxiety”.
Of the three facilities inspected, only the ‘out of home’ care provided by Secure Welfare Services at its Ascot Vale and Maribyrnong campuses appeared to use seclusion as a last resort.
Read the full media release and report under www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au/solitary-confinement-investigation
Source: Victorian Ombudsman, Australia