The Commission for Children and Young People released a scathing report, The Same Four Walls, detailing widespread isolation of children in Victoria’s youth justice centres.
In addition to findings that isolation and ‘lock-down’ practices are used at unacceptable levels in Victoria, the Commission’s report also highlights persistent staff shortages and a lack of reliable information and transparency about the use of these practices.
Alina Leikin, a lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the report is further evidence that successive governments have neglected the youth justice system.
“You can’t respond to inadequate staffing levels by just leaving kids locked up in the cells for hours on end. It’s time for the Victorian Government to stop taking short cuts and to start properly resourcing the youth justice system and adopt practices that actually work. Locking kids up in maximum security adult prison like Barwon is bad policy making on the run,” said Ms Leikin.
The report documents how whole units or entire centres were ‘locked-down’, with all children locked in their cells, at least 520 times in 18 months, largely due to inadequate staffing. At least 50 recorded lock downs lasted more than 36 hours. The report found that ‘children and young people enclosed alone between four walls with limited access to fresh air, human interaction, stimulation, psychological support and, in some circumstances, basic sanitation.’
“I’ve seen firsthand the distress and trauma inflicted on children through the use of isolation practices. At Barwon, children have been isolated for days and even weeks at a time. They are going mad in their cells,” said Ms Leikin.
The report highlights the alarming rate of isolation of Koori children, who make up 16 percent of the youth justice population, but 30 per cent of all children kept in isolation. The Report also draws attention to the use of isolation practices on children with mental illness, a history of self-harm and attempted suicide.
“These findings provide important context to the disturbances we have seen in recent months. When children are isolated for extensive periods of time, sometimes for no reason, tensions escalate and youth justice facilities become more difficult and dangerous to manage,” said Ms Leikin.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s legal challenge against the Victorian Government’s practice of detaining kids in the Barwon adult prison is scheduled to be heard in the Supreme Court on 3 April.
“The Victorian Government is responding to its mistakes by making more mistakes. The evidence is clear that isolation practices undermine rehabilitation. If we want safer facilities and safer communities, we must move away from these harmful practices and instead offer children and young people an opportunity to turn their lives around,” said Ms Leikin.
For further comments or queries please contact:
Tom Clarke, HRLC Director of Communications & Campaigns, on 0422 545 763