On 30 March 2017, the Herald Sun published the following story about our Supreme Court challenge against the Victorian Government to stop the use of Barwon prison to detain children. The story includes a letter written by one of our clients.
The Herald Sun
Thursday, 30 March 2017
On the eve of a fresh Supreme Court challenge to stop the Andrews Government keeping young people in Barwon prison, a 17-year-old offender has revealed the toll of being in the State’s most secure adult jail.
The boy, Caleb (not his real name), said being in the prison for two months made him feel he had no future.
“I wasn’t involved in any riot at Parkville or the escape from Malmsbury — I wasn’t even in custody at the time the riots happened (last November). I don’t know why it was me that got sent to Barwon,” Caleb said.
“Some days I was locked up for more than 23 hours alone in a tiny concrete cell. Sometimes this happened for days.
“There was no hope for the future … It was just (about) surviving each day. I was just thinking that my future was just over that wall. What was the point of trying.”
Caleb was returned to the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre at Parkville this month, but lawyers for some of the 16 youths still at Barwon will mount the court action next week to close a loophole allowing the Government to keep sending young people there.
After the Supreme Court found late last year that the Government could not legally keep children in an adult prison, part of Barwon was renamed the Grevillea Unit and gazetted as a youth justice centre.
Human Rights Law Centre lawyer Alina Leikin said that, if successful, the action would prevent any children being held at or sent to Barwon.
“Barwon maximum security adult prison houses Victoria’s most notorious adult offenders. It is the place where Carl Williams was murdered,” said Ms Leikin. “Barwon is fundamentally unsuitable for children.”
Caleb told the Herald Sun in a letter: “I know I’ve stuffed up. I’ve done things I’m not proud of. I’ve been given lots of chances and didn’t take them.
“I know people feel scared about kids committing crimes and I get that. But I think putting kids in an adult jail ... is just going to make them come out worse.”
Last December, a Supreme Court judge found a range of young people’s rights had been violated in Barwon prison.
“Most damning, the judge found that children had been subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment because of extensive isolation and the harsh conditions they were held in,” said Ms Leikin.
“You can change the name of a prison but you can’t change the facts. Kids don’t belong in maximum security adult prisons.”
Caleb said he feels safe having been returned to Parkville two weeks ago. He is looking forward to his release, has a job in construction lined up and hopes to study sports science at TAFE.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Supreme Court action is scheduled for Monday.
READ THE FULL LETTER
“I know I’ve stuffed up. I’ve done things I’m not proud of. I’ve been given lots of chances and didn’t take them. And so I’ve spent time locked up.
I spent almost 2 months locked up at Barwon adult prison. I wasn’t involved in any riot at Parkville or the escape from Malmsbury — I wasn’t even in custody at the time the riots happened. I don’t know why it was me that got sent to Barwon.
For me, Barwon was the worst place I have ever been. It is an adult prison. Some days I was locked up for more than 23 hours alone in a tiny concrete cell. Sometimes, this happened for days.
I didn’t want my grandma, who takes care of me, to visit and see me at Barwon because I didn’t want her see me like that. I didn’t want her to worry more than she already does.
Being at Barwon made me feel terrible. There was no hope for the future. I just kept thinking there was no way out. It was just surviving each day.
Some days, I could hear and speak to adult prisoners in the next unit. I was just thinking that my future was just over that wall. What was the point of trying.
Two weeks ago, I was transferred back to the facility for kids at Parkville. I feel so relieved and grateful. Even though I’m still locked up, I feel safe and cared for and I can actually think about more than just today.
While I’m here, I’m going to get ready to get back out and make a real go of it. I’m lucky to have a job in demolition lined up and I am hoping to go to TAFE to study sports science. I want to make my own life better and help other people be healthy.
Most kids in jail have gone through a really rough time growing up. My mum left when I was a little kid and my dad has been locked up for most of my life. It’s not an excuse but I think it is part of the reason we get off track.
I know people feel scared about kids committing crimes and I get that. But, I think putting kids in an adult jail or locking them in cells for 23 hours a day is just going to make them come out worse. It doesn’t help them. It made me feel like the world was against me.
We’ve done wrong, I know that, and there is a price. But putting kids at Barwon or treating us like caged animals is too much. And what’s more, it won’t work.
What’s actually helped me the most has been the opposite. Being shown some care.
Some of the teachers and staff who have treated me with respect and shown me that there are better ways of doing things. People can make something of themselves.
I know I have a lot of work to do when I get out. I’m going to show my grandma how grateful I am to her by showing her I can do better.”