Court Rules Children in Barwon Prison Illegal
Wednesday, 21st December 2016 at 12:15 pm
The Supreme Court in Victoria has ruled that the transfer and detention of children to Barwon Prison is unlawful and they must be moved.
The court ordered the children be moved to a suitable youth justice facility by 4pm Thursday.
The decision follows a legal challenge, launched by Fitzroy Legal Service and the Human Rights Law Centre, against the government’s transfer of children to Barwon maximum security adult jail.
The Victorian Government decided to move the children to Barwon Prison after the youth detention facility in Parkville was damaged in a recent teenage riot and the complex needed repair.
However, the government agreed not to transfer any Aboriginal children to adult jail.
Ruth Barson, director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that children do not belong in the state’s most notorious and hardened adult prison.
“While the government no doubt has a policy challenge on its hands, cruelty towards children can never be the answer. The government must find alternatives to exposing children to the harm of an adult jail,” Barson said.
The case was heard over four days last week. There was evidence given that children had been held in solitary confinement, had been exposed to guard dogs and corrections officers who did not have a working with children check, and that children were not getting proper access to education or schooling.
Manager of social action at Fitzroy Legal Service Meghan Fitzgerald said that all children had the right to be held in a safe environment, capable of meeting their basic developmental needs.
“The decision to transfer children to an adult jail set a dangerous precedent. We have a duty as a community to steer these kids along the right track. My clients are fearful and distressed – they belong in classrooms developing skills that allow them to contribute, not locked down in concrete boxes,” Fitzgerald said.
UNICEF Australia urged governments to urgently consider options to remove all children from adult detention facilities.
“Children do not belong in adult prison facilities, let alone a maximum security adult jail. As conditions in the Northern Territory have recently demonstrated to us again, punitive and control-based systems are costly, ineffective and extremely harmful to vulnerable youth,” the head of policy and advocacy at UNICEF Australia Amy Lamoin said.
Lamoin said mounting evidence showed that Australia was falling short of basic international standards to protect children in detention.
“The purpose of a youth justice system is to rehabilitate and reintegrate children who are found guilty of offences. Australia needs national standards and improved monitoring and oversight to ensure children are receiving the appropriate care,” she said.
“Youth detainees should always be placed in an environment which provides for the effective rehabilitation of young people, staffed by qualified personnel and with access to child-specific services. Punitive measures continue a no-win cycle for children and the community.”