26 Jul 2018
THE AGE - Melbourne
By Farrah Tomazin
The Andrews government is facing fresh questions over its troubled youth justice system after a teenager was allegedly tied up and sexually assaulted by a fellow inmate with a history of sexualised behaviour who was sharing his cell.
A group of guards were stood down over the incident, but it has become a flashpoint for internal unrest, with insiders claiming procedures weren't followed when the teen was allocated to the cell.
They also complain that some youth justice workers have faced the consequences when more senior people should take responsibility.
With four months to go until the state election, the case is the latest sign of the ongoing problems in juvenile jails, which have been plagued by a series of damaging riots, violence against staff and escapes.
Yesterday, Youth Affairs Minister Jenny Mikakos was also questioned in Parliament about the use of "punishment rooms" against young people at the former Grevillea unit in Barwon Prison, and the "hot-box" that a teenager claimed he was locked in for 23 hours, with the heater cranked up so high he could barely stand.
"We make no apologies for what we did in relation to Grevillea," said Ms Mikakos, adding that she could not comment on individual cases.
"Isolation is allowed under the legislation when it goes to the safety of the young person involved - or the safety of the facility - and there are very strict provisions around these issues."
The most recent incident took place in May and the officers were stood down earlier this month, but insiders have claimed the shared-cell arrangement was not properly authorised by a panel set up to oversee the placements of young people in the system.
Some well-placed sources have also told The Age that the incident could have potentially been avoided if "red flags" had not been ignored, such as signs of sexualised behaviour witnessed in the lead-up to the event.
Asked whether proper processes had been followed, whether the victim was seen bound in his cell, and why workers had been stood down, Ms Mikakos replied:
"It's not appropriate to comment on matters subject to a police investigation."
Instead, the minister listed how the government was fixing the system after four years of "cuts, neglect and mismanagement" under the former Liberal government.
"We are acting on expert advice to strengthen and modernise Victoria's youth justice system through a record $1.2 billion investment.
This includes building fit-for-purpose infrastructure, recruiting additional staff and expanding rehabilitation programs to ensure staff and young people are safe and secure," she said.
The alleged assault is one of dozens that take place inside the youth justice system every year, but has been deemed so serious that the state's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Liana Buchanan, has also mounted a separate investigation in addition to Victoria Police's inquiry.
Ms Buchanan declined to comment on her review, other than to say:
"I can confirm that I am looking at it, and there are a number of aspects that are profoundly concerning."
However, opposition youth affairs spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the incident was another symbol of the mismanagement of youth justice - and the government's denial of ongoing problems in the area of law and order.
"You can't fix a problem if you don't accept there is one and that's why we are seeing the system becoming even worse," she said.
"Some of the decisions made on individual cases have resulted in terrible consequences."
|Tags: Letters to the Editor|