Legal challenge to Victorian Government’s cruel decision to warehouse children in maximum security adult jail

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) has filed a case in the Victorian Supreme Court challenging the lawfulness of the Government’s decision to send Aboriginal children as young as 16 years to Barwon maximum security adult prison.

Lawyers and advocates were advised on Monday that up to 40 young people would be transferred to Barwon this week, following extensive damage caused to the Parkville Youth Detention Centre. Many of the children transferred are highly vulnerable, with some being in child protection; and others having a disability.

Wayne Muir, Chief Executive Officer at VALS, said that this move is completely counterproductive to Aboriginal children’s wellbeing and risks further traumatising the community.

“Children are fundamentally different to adults. Putting our sons and daughters in Victoria’s most notorious adult prison is not a solution, it’s plain cruelty and will lead to a decrease in community safety,” said Mr Muir.

Mr Muir said that when the transfers began on Monday afternoon, VALS received phone calls from panicked children about to board the prison transfer bus and from members of the Aboriginal community, afraid that they were being sent to the place built for Victoria’s most hardened criminals.

“Victoria has a poor track record when it comes to looking after Koori kids. This is something we might have expected 50 years ago, but certainly not from Premier Andrews and not after we’ve spent the last decade trying to turn things around by negotiating the Aboriginal Justice Agreement and Charter of Human Rights,” said Mr Muir.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Victoria are 11 times more likely to be locked up than non-Indigenous young people. Evidence shows that our government should be investing in early intervention programs to prevent children entering into the criminal justice system in the first place.

Ruth Barson, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, who is coordinating the legal team, said that this move is reminiscent of some of the worst episodes in Australia’s recent youth justice history.

“Victoria should not go down the dark path of Don Dale. Premier Andrews has an obligation to protect children in the State’s care from harm. In this day and age there must be alternatives to putting children in a prison built for the most notorious criminals,” said Ms Barson.

There are reports that facilities at Barwon are particularly punitive, with children being locked down for over 20 hours a day without access to programs or education. Ms Barson said that Premier Andrews is sidelining children’s basic right not to be subjected to harm in favour of a law and order agenda.

“Premier Andrews’s response of putting children in a concrete box in Victoria’s worst prison represents a failure of moral judgement. Rather than grandstanding, the Government should ensure children are not put in risky conditions that increase their chances of becoming entrenched in the criminal justice system,” said Ms Barson.

The case will be heard next Wednesday and Thursday.

For further comments or queries please contact:

Wayne Muir, Chief Executive Officer, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service: 0467 505 642 

Ruth Barson, Director of Advocacy, Human Rights Law Centre: 0417 773 037

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519