‘Humiliating, degrading and undignified’ treatment in a Victorian women’s prison

‘Humiliating, degrading and undignified’ treatment in a Victorian women’s prison

The Victorian Ombudsman today released a critical report highlighting ‘humiliating, degrading and undignified’ strip search practices in a Victorian women’s prison. The report shows Victoria is breaching human rights standards by subjecting women to routine strip searches, extended solitary confinement and excessive use of restraints.

The Ombudsman conducted an independent inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre in July this year. The report, tabled in Parliament today, makes 19 recommendations for preventing cruel inhuman and degrading treatment. The Victorian Government accepted 18 of the recommendations, but is refusing to stop the degrading practice of routinely strip searching women.

Ruth Barson, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said it was deeply disappointing that the Victorian Government will continue to subject women in prison to this indiscriminate and harmful practice, particularly at a time when it is leading the way in protecting women against family violence.

"No woman should be stripped of her dignity. Routinely forcing women in prison to remove every single piece of their clothing in full view of two guards is damaging and a profound invasion of a woman’s privacy. As a community, we should be standing up for the rights of all women to safety," said Ms Barson.

The Ombudsman’s report details that most women in prison have been victims of family violence or sexual assault, and that routinely strip searching women in prison can have severe and long-lasting effects on women’s well-being and sense of self.

"Almost all women in prison carry deep scars from past abuse. Being subjected to strip searches time and again only harms them further. There are better, modern ways to look for contraband. The Ombudsman’s report shows that there are no compelling reasons for the Andrews Government to cling to this outdated and uniquely intrusive practice," said Ms Barson.

Both the UK and the ACT have abandoned routine strip searches of women in prison.

The HRLC welcomes the Victorian Ombudsman’s report, which shows the importance of independent inspection and monitoring of places of detention and the need for the Australian Government to ratify OPCAT — the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture — as soon as possible.

The Ombudsman’s report is available here.

For interviews or further information please call:

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