New legal action launched to get children out of Barwon adult jail

A new Supreme Court case has been launched against the Victorian Government to ensure no child is held in the Barwon maximum security adult prison.

The case comes three days after the government agreed not to transfer any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child to Barwon prison.

Meghan Fitzgerald, lawyer at Fitzroy Legal Service, which is bringing the legal action, said that all children have the right to be safe.

“I was at Barwon yesterday and it’s undeniably unfit for children. Putting kids in an adult jail is dangerous and sets a terrible precedent. No child should be kept in such appalling conditions, in a prison built for the most dangerous people in Victoria,” said Ms Fitzgerald. 

There are approximately 15 children in Barwon adult jail. Most are yet to face trial. The children are being locked in small cells for more than 20 hours per day. Evidence shows that exposing children to these conditions risks causing irreparable psychological harm.

“I have clients who two weeks ago were housed in an appropriate youth justice facility where they were attending school, finishing their year 10 and were awarded student of the week. Now they’re locked in a concrete cell for most of the day, staring at the ceiling,” said Ms Fitzgerald.

The case argues that the government acted unlawfully in sending children to Barwon prison, that it has failed to act in the best interests of children in its care and that is has breached Victoria’s Human Rights Charter.

Ruth Barson, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, which is coordinating the legal team, said that the government cannot just pick and choose which children it treats humanely.

“Sending children to Barwon Prison was a bad decision. Earlier this week the Andrews Government promised not to send one group of children there. This case is about ensuring no child is sent there,” said Ms Barson. 

“These children deserve to be housed in a safe environment where they have access to school and programs so that they can reach their potential. Whatever the challenge, putting children in the state’s toughest adult jail is not the answer,” said Ms Barson.

For media inquiries:

Ruth Barson, Human Rights Law Centre: 0417 773 037

Meghan Fitzgerald, Fitzroy Legal Service: 0450 977 447

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