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Issue #1763      February 1, 2017

Risk of torture and ill treatment

Placing Corrections Victoria staff from adult jails in charge of juvenile inmates could lead to situations similar to those exposed in the Don Dale juvenile detention Royal Commission, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

ALA spokesperson and barrister Greg Barns said that putting corrections staff – who were trained to oversee adults – in charge of minors in detention showed that the mistakes from Don Dale could happen all over again. Barns was particularly concerned by the announcement that additional weapons would be authorised for use against children.

“The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory showed that juvenile inmates in the Don Dale detention facility were subjected to horrendous abuse at the hands of the corrections staff tasked and trusted to watch over them. As the Royal Commission has revealed, part of the problem there was that the staff were not properly trained to work with children in detention,” Barns said.

“People in Australia and around the world were rightly outraged when the extent of the ill-treatment, abuse and even torture these minors suffered was exposed.”

Under international law, the best interests of the child must be paramount, detention of children should only ever be used as a last resort, and torture and ill-treatment are never permissible.

“No matter what the situation, we cannot have juvenile detainees being cared for by prison staff who do not have the appropriate level or type of training. Authorising the use of additional weapons against these children is not the answer.”

Barns said that a recent UK parliamentary report recommended that children should never be put in adult detention. The “Review of the Youth Justice System in England and Wales” actually recommended that the government should extend juvenile detention through to age 25, which is the opposite of the trends we have been seeing in Australia recently.

“There is a duty of care to ensure that all people being detained by the state are cared for by staff with the appropriate skills and training. The primary aim of all detention should be rehabilitation, but when it comes to children this must be the number one priority. The reforms announced today are likely to undermine rehabilitation efforts, leaving Victoria’s most vulnerable children more damaged than when they were detained,” Barns said.

He said putting staff trained to deal with adult prisoners in charge of minors is potentially creating another Don Dale situation and that the government must live up to its duty-of-care responsibilities, amend its announcement and ensure that any minors detained in juvenile facilities will be cared for by the appropriately-trained staff.

“When the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory was announced, the ALA called for all places where children be detained by any government in Australia be investigated by it. We reiterate that call today,” Barns said.

Next article – Revolt at the coalface

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