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All of the pre-conditions, all of the premises for a repeat of the terrible abuses that occurred at Don Dale are being cemented in Victoria.
Young people are being treated in the same dehumanizing ways as adults. The same extremely harmful and potentially lethal chemical weapons that cause injury and trauma to adults, like capsicum sprays and tear gas, are being used more regularly on juveniles as well.
Recently the use of tear gas was authorized against children detained in an adult prison in Victoria. This practice is not dissimilar to what was witnessed in the infamous Don Dale centre and caused widespread outrage.
Increased militarization of detention systems
Charandev Singh, advocate at the Abolitionist and Transformative Justice Centre, laments these harmful practices and also deplores the increased use of batons against juveniles as well as the use of specialist teams which have been repeatedly associated with deaths in Victorian adult prisons and deaths in interstate prisons.
In addition to his condemnation of the increased militarization and use of force on juveniles in the strongest terms, Charandev Singh also remarks that the worst harm is done to young people by subjecting them to prolonged isolation. "Some youth can be in lock down for 21, 22 or even 23 hours a day."
He says, The use of isolation whether it is because of staff shortages or as a punishment technique is completely prohibited against children, one day is not acceptable, one week is not acceptable. Now, there are children who have been through this for two months'.
Charendev says 'Isolation leads to mental health and other breakdown in children and it leads to a terribly corrosive relationship between young people and their custodians in prisons, isolation is also a form of terrible violence against young people.'
To support his arguments Charandev Singh cites the findings of a Special UN rapporteur on torture whose research shows that “isolation is so damaging, so devastating and so counterproductive and so unsafe for children that it cannot be justified under any circumstances for any duration”.
Collapsing the distinction between adults and children
Charandev Singh believes that there is no coincidence in what we are seeing right around the country and it is quiet troubling: “what you are seeing is quiet an intentional attempt to collapse the distinction between children and adults and to turn the youth detention system not just in Victoria but right across the country into a system that really doesn’t distinguish children any differently from adults and turns youth prisons into singular pipelines into the adult system.
That is what is happening in Victoria with the intention to build supermax prisons and the militarisation of the youth detention system”.
Charandev also slams the tough on crime stance, so popular among politicians of all stripes especially the current Daniel Andrews government in Victoria.
He says, “It is always expedient for the opposition and the government to be running law and order campaigns because the one voice that you never hear is the voice of the children who are at the centre of youth mas incarceration”
Detention is counterproductive and damaging
He is urging governments to review their approach and “have an understanding of what has always worked for young people. It is the intensive accountability and support and trauma based programs. These have always worked with young people. Even the most complex young people; even the most challenging young people that challenge us to the core because of the extreme trauma and violence and neglect that they’ve suffered in their lives deeply benefit from systems of support and care and intervention and accountability that are not based in prisons and are not about enacting further violence on them and does not teach young people that violence is powerful and violence is the way to go."
Charandev's views are echoed by Amnesty International whose spokesperson, Roxanne Moore, says: “The Victorian Government should be making evidence based decisions rather than knee-jerk reactions that put children at further risk, like sending adult prison guards into youth detention centres, reportedly with batons and pepper spray.
These are children who need our support to rehabilitate for a brighter future, not to be institutionalised for a life of crime”.