Ombudsman’s report reveals major failings in oversight, monitoring and accountability in places of detention

The April 2012 Ombudsman’s report into the death of Carl Williams at Barwon Prison highlighted a number of systemic failings inVictoria’s prison system. Among these failings, the Ombudsman was highly critical of the lack of independent monitoring or oversight ofVictoria’s prisons. The Ombudsman quoted extensively from a HRLC briefing paper on correctional accountability as follows:

Victoria does not have an independent body responsible for monitoring and oversight of prisons and other places of detention … The Victorian Office of Correctional Services Review, an internal business unit within the Department of Justice which reports to the Secretary of the Department [of Justice], is not sufficiently independent, empowered or publicly accountable to undertake this function. The OCSR’s lack of independence is exacerbated by the fact that it does not publicly publish its reports or findings.

The Ombudsman concluded that this reflected his own finding as to institutional failings in correctional oversight, including:

a lack of separation from those who undertake correctional roles the OCSR is monitoring and reviewing; limited transparency and accountability; investigations that vary in quality; and a failure to complete investigations in a timely manner.

Following the release of the Ombudsman’s report, the Victorian Premier announced that the Government will review the “the structure and management systems of Corrections Victoria and the Department of Justice” and that former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Palmer will lead a review to independently audit and benchmark the implementation of the Ombudsman's 57 recommendations.

The establishment of a fully independent, adequately resourced and appropriately mandated body to inspect places of detention and publicly report its findings and recommendations should be a priority for this review.