A damning report into the operation of Victoria’s corrections system has identified the mistreatment of young people in detention and again highlighted the need for a fully independent prison watchdog. The Victorian Ombudsman’s report follows an investigation into the mistaken transfer of five children into the adult prison system.
“Children do not belong in adult prisons, let alone high-security units within maximum security prisons,” said Ben Schokman, Director of International Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre.
“Poor decision-making processes, inadequate legal protections and a lack of independent oversight leads to mistakes which have grave consequences for the lives of young people in Victoria.”
“The Ombudsman’s report identifies what many have been saying for some time now. It is never justified, in any circumstances, to transfer young people into adult prison, and the processes currently in place to prevent this from happening are clearly inadequate,” said Mr Schokman.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found that Corrections Victoria did not consider alternative placement options that could have been used for the young people. Instead, the children were placed in the high security Charlotte Management Unit at Port Phillip Prison in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. When they were allowed into the exercise yard for one hour, they were placed in handcuffs.
“Children and young people must be treated in a way that is appropriate for their age and their best interests must always be the paramount consideration, Detention in adult prisons is completely incompatible with these fundamental rights,” said Mr Schokman.
The Youth Parole Board is responsible for decisions to transfer young people into adult prisons. “We are extremely concerned that that the Youth Parole Board currently has a licence to act unfairly because it is exempt from complying with the rules of natural justice and exempt from considering what is in the best interests of children,” said Mr Schokman. “Clearly there needs to be better safeguards in place to ensure that the unacceptable situation of placing children in high security adult prisons does not occur, ever.”
Report also highlights need for a fully independent prison watchdog
The Ombudsman’s report also explains that Corrections Victoria did not accept many recommendations made by the Office of Correctional Services Review. The Office is currently responsible for oversight of the corrections system but sits within the Department of Justice.
“Many concerns have previously been raised about the lack of independence of the Office of Correctional Services Review. This inherent conflict raises concerns about proper and adequate transparency and oversight, and results in poor decisions being made that have serious consequences,” said Mr Schokman.
The Ombudsman has previously identified the need for a transparent and accountable system for monitoring Victoria’s correctional system in two previous reports tabled in Parliament.
This most recent report demonstrates yet again why Australia must move urgently to ratify the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
The Optional Protocol is an international treaty that obliges countries to establish independent oversight bodies to inspect places of detention in order to prevent mistreatment. Australia signed the Optional Protocol in May 2009, but despite pledging to ratify it as a matter of urgency has so far failed to do so.
“Corrections Victoria’s dismissal of important recommendations made by the Office of Correctional Services Review only further highlights the need for the establishment of a fully independent body with stronger powers,” said Mr Schokman.
“Making places of detention more open, transparent and accountable helps to ensure that people deprived of liberty are treated with dignity and respect. Any further delay in the prevention of ill-treatment in detention has intolerable social and economic costs and is simply not an option,” said Mr Schokman.
Further information about the Optional Protocol and reasons for ratification by Australia are available at http://www.hrlc.org.au/australia-must-ratify-op-cat-submission-to-joint-standing-committee-on-treaties-26-march-2012.
A copy of the Victorian Ombudsman's report is available here.
For further information or comments contact:
Ben Schokman, Director of International Advocacy, on 0403 622 810 or firstname.lastname@example.org