Standing Committee on Legal and Social Issues (12.10.2016)
Written on the 13 October 2016
12 October 2016
Standing Committee on Legal and Social Issues
GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)
I am pleased to be able to rise this morning and move:
That, pursuant to sessional order 6, this house requires the Legal and Social Issues Committee to inquire into and report on, no later than Thursday, 24 November 2016, issues at both Parkville and Malmsbury youth justice centres including, but not limited to:
(1) matters relating to incidents including definitions, numbers and changes to the reporting of incidents;
(2) the security and safety of staff, employees and young offenders at both facilities; and
(3) any other issues the committee considers as relevant.
In doing so can I say that I have discussed this motion with a number of colleagues and members in the house because some serious issues have arisen in recent times, and I am talking especially about what has been happening in recent months in our youth justice facilities. Colleagues and members of the crossbench from other parties have said that they have concerns in relation to the reporting date in this motion and other areas in relation to what the stakeholders have perhaps said to them about that reporting date as well. I just put that on the record and say that those concerns have been noted, and I thank the members for their discussions with me.
I do not think that is occurring. I would say that the community has got real concerns about law and order generally in this state at the current time. There are no surprises in that because of what we have seen in the latest crime statistics, which demonstrate an increase in crime across the state of 13.4 per cent.
Unfortunately many of those crimes are being committed by young offenders. When those young offenders are subject to the courts and then put into the youth justice facilities, of course everybody wants to give them the best chance in rehabilitation, support and education. Can I say it was the former minister Ms Wooldridge who actually put an education facility into the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre at Parkville and did a tremendous job in identifying the support that these young people need. Some of them do not have any or have very poor literacy or numeracy skills and have totally disengaged, and this educational facility is giving them the skills that they need to enable them, when they are out of the facility, to be productive in the community and ensure that they can lead productive lives. That is what everyone wants. Everyone in this chamber wants that for these young people. No-one is suggesting otherwise.
But when you have got some young offenders who are very violent and who have committed serious offences, there have to be consequences and disciplinary measures have to be put in place. Of course these youth justice facilities need to be able to manage those circumstances. Let us look again at the youth justice custodial setting. As we know, these young offenders can have very complex backgrounds, they can be very violent and they can have a multitude of reasons for that. However, it does not excuse causing anyone in the community or within the youth justice facility to fear for their safety. I do not think we need to be putting up with this time and time again.
I want to outline in my contribution why I have put forward this motion to the house and why I think it is important: because of what is actually being reported in the public domain and perhaps what is occurring in the facilities themselves. I will go to the first paragraph of my motion:
(1) matters relating to incidents including definitions, numbers and changes to the reporting of incidents
Yes, we have got the Commission for Children and Young People and, yes, they are doing their job, but my goodness, have they got some work on their hands. There are a number of reviews being undertaken by the commissioner and I commend the work that they are doing but we are about to introduce more legislation in relation to child protection in this house. We are about to debate a bill in this house in the coming weeks, and again the workload that will be put on the commissioner for children and young people in relation to that particular piece of legislation will need to see additional resources. So, yes, the commissioner might be able to be reviewing all these category 1 reports that are going across the health minister's desk and her desk, but as I said we need to do what the actual department's website says about youth justice, and that is:
With that in mind, if I can just go to the department's website, this is what it says about category 1 incidents:
Category 1 incidents are the most serious incidents and include incidents such as death of clients; allegations of physical or sexual assault; and serious client behaviour issues that impact on client or staff safety.
Well, according to the website, in relation to some of these definitions:
As we are constantly being told by the government and others, some of these offenders have got seriously complex backgrounds and have histories of abuse. So in the reporting of the assaults in these categories we do not know if they are assaults that have occurred prior to them entering the youth justice system or if the assaults have occurred in the youth justice system, nor do we know, really, who these assaults are against. Are they inmate against inmate, client against client or against the staff?
If I look at these numbers, in the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee this year the minister did provide figures relating to some of these category 1 incidents. Actually, before I go to that, can I just explain again about these categories. Obviously client death is self-explanatory. Assault includes alleged physical and sexual assaults, the majority being physical assaults. In a custodial setting assaults often occur when young people in a confined space become agitated and frustrated, and this can result in physical force such as hitting or throwing objects. Behaviour includes incidents involving aberrant or threatening behaviour, and other incident types are defined as other incidents that include matters such as drug or alcohol possession and injury.
Now, going back to those figures that have been publicly reported on, in July to September 2015, quarter 1, client deaths was zero, assaults was 15, behaviour was 1 and other incidents was 1. That is a total of 17. In October to December, quarter 2, client deaths was zero, assaults was 22, behaviour was zero and other incidents was 5. That is a total of 27. Now to quarter 3, taking into consideration that quarter 3 had the October riots that I will go to shortly. In quarter 3, which is obviously January to March, client deaths was zero, assaults was 23, behaviour was zero and other incidents was 5. That is a total of 28, and in that period there were the March riots. Quarter 4 was a similar figure to those that I have just given to you.
In relation to the concerns that I have, there is consistency in the numbers that I have just read out; they are around the early to mid-20s. My concerns are in terms of what is being publicly put on record not being consistent with what is actually being reported in a range of media outlets and what is being said to a number of people in relation to stakeholders that are involved in this. I will have a look at that now. We have had, as I said, riot after riot after riot in our youth justice system. Looking at the reports and I am holding a wad of reports that relate to all of these instances that have occurred we of course had the October riots that were in Parkville last year when six inmates climbed onto a roof. I am just going to remind members of actually what occurred, what I am referring to and why I have grave concerns about the figures that are being reported. This was reported in the Age on 31 October 2105:
A tense standoff sparked after six inmates climbed onto the roof of the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre was just the tip of the iceberg of ongoing tension
Here is another concern regarding that particular incident. The Herald Sun on 1 November 2015 reported that:
So you can see that these actually do fit the categories that I spoke about. Again at Parkville, on 7 March the Age reported:
The inmates climbed onto the roof, some armed with metal bars
Again, there is just report after report in relation to what actually occurred. This actual incident was the second incident that occurred, as reported by the Herald Sun on 8 March:
It was the second day of mayhem at the centre, which was locked down on Sunday after hammers, pitchforks and metal bars were stolen from a horticulture shed.
Those are just the two major ones that have been reported, and I know that some of these inmates have got some concerns. Yes, they might like to be seen to be displaying this sort of behaviour, but what we have got in here is a gang culture, and I know that the minister refuses to acknowledge that. She calls at a 'community affiliation', but it is well-known that gangs are operating in the youth justice facilities. In terms of what is occurring, this is not giving anyone, especially those more vulnerable, young people that are in there, the tools, support and necessary guidance to not take up more violent activity, be recruited into these gangs and then be seen on a downward spiral into not only becoming attendees of youth justice services but getting into the adult prison system. So we do not want that to be occurring. Clearly there are Apex gang members in the youth justice facilities, there are other gang members from other groups that are also in there and this is causing increased tensions.
Now, the riots; can I say, they are the ones that we know about, and we know that
ABC online quoted Community and Public Sector Union Victoria spokesman Julian Kennedy, who said:
If this is not an out-of-control situation, I do not know what is. If you have got staff barricading themselves in and you have got 11 inmates taking over the facility's area, this shows no control by those that are supposed to be in charge, or maybe they do not have the capacity because they do not have the numbers to be able to do so. That is why the system is in chaos and that is why people, and especially these young people who are in it, are at risk.
I just want to again refer to some of the issues that we have been told about. The police are out there on numerous occasions
As I said, WorkSafe Victoria
This report says:
The report continues:
The report continues further on:
This WorkSafe report is actually quite enlightening because it does raise a lot of concerns. It states:
The inspector then lists a whole range of things that were determined, one of which is:
It was acknowledged that the aluminium door is not of sufficient strength to prevent it being kicked in and this compromises the safety system when relying on the door to separate aggressive parties.
The employer has failed to provide a system of work relating to client separation that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.
Large areas of this WorkSafe report have been redacted. This is not a newspaper report that I am referring to, Minister. This is actually a WorkSafe report, so this is actually, as you would know, factual. I mean, you get these category 1s over your desk, so you know exactly what I am talking about with all of these incidents. You have gone silent now on it. These are really concerning issues.
Ms Mikakos Have you heard of the commission too, because we changed the legislation to make that happen. If you cared
If I can, through you, Acting President, go back to this very important WorkSafe report, the one that I am referring to.
These are notes from the staff, who have said:
So we have got police attending. We have got movement between the facilities. We have got people climbing up there. We have got breaches of the infrastructure within the facility and we have got a range of issues in this WorkSafe report that is heavily redacted, so I do not know the full extent of what was actually going on; I am only just able to identify what I can. Importantly and this I think is where with these issues we know that they are out of control the notes state that the security emergency response team, or the SERT team, was:
This is the workers just writing these reports, these daily reports. We know that they are seriously under stress in relation to their capacity to be able to deal with this ongoing violent behaviour that is occurring and the ongoing issues that are in our youth justice facilities. That was just one report in March. I do not have access to, obviously, all the other issues, but in this financial year they are the number of incidents that have occurred that we know about. That is all we know about.
Ms CROZIER Exactly. News outlets right across the state and internationally are looking at what is going on here. It is quite extraordinary when it reaches the UK press and they are writing about it.