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

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

A new Supreme Court case has been launched against the Victorian Government by the Human Rights Law Centre to stop the use of Barwon prison to detain children.

Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director at the Human Rights Law Centre, said, “Barwon Prison is not safe for children. This case is about ensuring that no child is locked up in a maximum security adult jail. It damages their rehabilitation and ultimately harms community safety.”

“We need safe, humane, age-appropriate youth justice facilities that help to get these kids’ lives back on track. Barwon Prison does the opposite,” he added.

The case follows the transfer of children as young as 15 to a unit in Barwon adult jail, the use of adult prison guards in youth justice facilities and the authorisation of the use of tear gas, capsicum spray and extendable batons.

“At Barwon prison we’re seeing the ongoing solitary confinement of children. The denial of proper education to mandatory school age kids. The use of capsicum spray by adult prison staff and the hospitalisation of a 16 year old boy after the government ignored our warnings to transfer him. We know at least two boys have self-harmed,” Mr de Kretser said.

“At a time when governments around the country are improving youth justice systems after seeing the horrors of Don Dale, the Andrews Government is headed in the opposite direction. Using Barwon prison to lock up children is bad for the children and bad for community safety,” Mr de Kretser added.

Late last year the Victorian Court of Appeal upheld an earlier Supreme Court decision that the Victorian Government acted unlawfully in using Barwon adult prison as a youth justice facility. The court said that the government didn’t properly consider the children’s human rights and didn’t properly consider other important issues around the children’s wellbeing. The government responded by making a new decision on 29 December to continue to use Barwon in spite of the rulings.

In a separate Supreme Court bail case concerning a boy held at Barwon, on 6 January Justice Elliott said, “The overwhelming impression given from the building and its surrounds is that Barwon Children’s Remand Centre is an adult prison and not a centre for holding children on remand…it is difficult to envisage that, whatever measures are taken with respect to programs and other resources that might be made available to the residents, this distinct impression will materially change.”

Mr de Krester added, “This new case will argue that Barwon cannot be a lawful youth justice facility. If we are successful, the government will not have a choice, they will not be able to use Barwon to lock up children.”

  • There are currently only around 20 children and young people held at Barwon including boys as young as 15. The vast majority are on pre-trial detention (remand).
  • The legal team is led by barristers Brian Walters QC, Matthew Albert, Sarala Fitzgerald and Adam McBeth.

An explainer on the background to the case is here.

For further comments or queries please contact:

Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director, Human Rights Law Centre, 0403 965 340

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

Who: Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director, Human Rights Law Centre
Wayne Muir, Chief Executive Officer, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service
Meghan Fitzgerald, Fitzroy Legal Service
Julian Cleary, Amnesty International's Indigenous Rights Campaigner

Date: Wednesday 8 February 2017
Time: 2:00pm
Location: On the steps of the Victorian Supreme Court, 210 William St, Melbourne