• A supplied image obtained Monday, Feb. 6, 2017 of damage to the ventilation system at Parkville Youth Justice Precinct after riots on November 12 to 14, 2016. (AAP)Source: AAP
A damning report into Victoria’s youth justice system has highlighted shocking cases of extended isolation, poor sanitary conditions and chronic understaffing.
Rachael Hocking

23 Mar 2017 - 3:17 PM  UPDATED 24 Mar 2017 - 10:28 AM
  • Isolation rooms had no toilets

  • Children forced to defecate on the floor

  • Family photos taken away as punishment

Children in the three youth justice centres across Victoria are being subject to conditions likened to ‘the time of colonisation,’ according to the state’s Aboriginal Children’s Commissioner.

Andrew Jackomos said some of the worst cases, in his eyes, involved the removal of toilet paper and family photos.

“We’ve heard cases of broken limbs, but removing a photo of family when we know two thirds have already been removed from their families, and then taking away their toilet paper and soap, and treating them like animals,” he said.

While 23 per cent of recorded isolations was for an hour, in some instances it found children were being placed on ‘separation plans’ for weeks at a time, and that four young people were isolated more than 100 times.

“It reminds me of how the system treated us at the time of colonisation.”

“Members of the government should read this report and hang their heads in shame.”

The report follows a tumultuous two years for youth justice in Victoria, including riots at its Parkville and Malmsbury centres and a mass break-out involving 15 inmates earlier this year.

The report, tabled in parliament this morning, focused on the use of isolation, separation and lockdowns across the centres.

Four Indigenous teens reported missing in Western Brisbane in one day
Yesterday police announced that four Aboriginal teenagers have gone missing in or around the Logan area of West Brisbane.

While 23 per cent of recorded isolations was for an hour, in some instances it found children were being placed on ‘separation plans’ for weeks at a time, and that four young people were isolated more than 100 times.

Commissioner for Children and Young People, Liana Buchanan, said the findings suggested isolation had been used to manage behaviour, rather than as a last resort and for the shortest possible time.

In extreme cases, some children said they urinated or defecated in the isolation rooms when they were denied toilet access.

“I’ve had a piss in there before,” one child’s testimony reads.

“It was all day and if there’s not enough staff to take you to the toilet… holding on for three hours, that’s hard.”

The report found ‘most’ of Parkville’s isolation rooms and ‘a small number’ of Malmsbury’s do not have toilets.

Koori Children ‘overrepresented’ in isolation

Of particular concern to Mr Jackomos is the over-representation of Koori children in isolation.

The report found that while Koori children make up 16 per cent of the population at Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre, they make up 30 per cent of young people in isolation.

“Many of these Koori children have severe trauma issues,” he said.

“Isolation and the manner of it can only make it worse. I understand sometimes they need to be separated, but it’s the factors that go with it: without proper sanitary conditions, without toilet paper.

“And it’s the time they’re in there, time without fresh air: these compound the issues. We want them to be rehabilitated… we don’t want them to go back there.”

The report also found the Department of Health and Human Services did not comply with their own policies relating to the isolation of Koori young people.

Cultural support workers are meant to contacted when considering placing a Koori child in isolation, but one cultural support staff member told reviewers they are called ’50 per cent of the time.’

Commissioner ‘quietly confident’ system will change

Mr Jackomos says he believes the system will change and is optimistic about the April 3 move, when the responsibility for youth justice in Victoria will transfer to the Department of Justice and Regulation.

“We have drawn a line in the sand with our report… it will only get better from here,” he said.

Youth Affairs Minister Jenny Mikakos said the government accepted all the report's recommendations 'either in full or in principle'.

"This report highlights that there have been some longstanding deficiencies and shortcomings, particularly relating to data reporting practices in relation to isolation,"

At a door-stop Thursday afternoon, Ms Mikakos emphasised the difference between 'isolation, separated management plans and lock-down'. 

"In the vast majority of cases young offenders are being placed in isolation in their own cells, where they have access to a television, sanitation facilities, a bed, reading materials and other matters," she said. 

When asked about the absence of sanitation facilities in some isolation rooms, Ms Mikakos said she had been advised that they can pose risks.

"We do need to ensure that there aren't hanging points, for example, and other potential risk of self-harm," she said. 

Ms Buchanan said she was ‘heartened’ by the government’s response, and looks ‘forward to seeing improvement’.

The report made 21 recommendations, including introducing legislation which ensures the practice of isolation is not misused, and providing basic sanitation in isolation rooms. 

If you need help or support, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24 hours-a-day) or contact your local Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation. If you have questions for the Australian Human Rights Commission contact the National Information line on: 1300 656 419 or 02 9284 9888.