Victorian lawyers and the Child Safety Commissioner have raised serious concerns about a 16-year-old Aboriginal boy who was held in solitary confinement at one of the state’s adult jails.
The teen spent nearly four months in solitary confinement at the Charlotte maximum security unit inside Port Phillip Prison while under the protection of the Department of Human Services (DHS).
The teenager spent 22 hours a day in solitary confinement. The other two hours of the day were spent handcuffed in an exercise yard.
Director of the Law Institute of Victoria, Michael Holcroft, is highly critical of the case.
“It’s a form of torture. It’s the same sort of thing that happened to David Hicks in Guantanamo Bay,” he said.
Legal experts now want to know how many other juveniles are inside adult jails.
The Charlotte unit is described as a jail within a jail – it is the highest security section inside Port Phillip Prison.
Former drug squad detective Paul Dale and underworld figure Mick Gatto have served time there.
The 16-year-old Aboriginal boy was incarcerated there from July until last week while under a child protection order from the DHS.
Tiffany Overall from justice group Youth Law has been trying unsuccessfully to find out how many more young people have been held in solitary confinement at adult jails.
“It is not acceptable for a 16-year-old to be in the adult prison system and to be in the adult prison system in solitary confinement. Someone should be accountable,” she said.
The teenager was moved to the adult prison after he and a number of other youths tried to escape from the Parkville Juvenile Justice Centre in July.
It is alleged he attacked a guard, cutting his neck with a knife.
The Youth Parole Board then approved the teen’s transfer to Port Phillip Prison, where he was placed in the Charlotte unit.
Two others, both aged 17, were also transferred to solitary confinement within the adult prison.
“Even if someone was a violent person, there has to be a better way of dealing with this than locking them up in solitary confinement in an adult prison for four or five months,” Mr Holcroft said.
The ABC’s 7.30 Victoria program has learnt the case was raised at a Youth Diversion Roundtable on September 19, which was attended by three Victorian Government ministers.
Corrections Minister, Andrew McIntosh, Community Services Minister, Mary Wooldridge and Attorney-General, Robert Clark.
People who attended that meeting have confirmed that serious concerns were raised about the boy’s welfare.
However, the 16-year-old remained in solitary confinement at the jail for another month.
Mr Holcroft said the case may breach human rights protections.
“The Human Rights Charter says children should not be kept with adult prisoners, although there is an exception there if it’s not feasible otherwise. I’m sure there were other alternatives here,” he said.
“It’s extremely distressing that such a young person would be kept in solitary confinement for a period of months receiving, I presume, no rehab or support.”
The Child Safety Commissioner, Bernie Geary, became aware of the case earlier this month and visited the 16-year-old in the Charlotte unit.
Victoria’s Shadow Attorney-General Martin Pakula says the Government must explain what has gone wrong with the system.
“As a minister, if you’re made aware of a serious problem, your responsibility is to act immediately,” Mr Pakula said.
“I understand there was an escape attempt but the solution to that surely is not to put young people into the adult prison system.”
The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service said it has serious concerns that a child under the protection of the DHS was jailed in such a way.
7.30 Victoria has obtained an email sent from the Aboriginal Legal Service two weeks ago to the director of youth justice within the Department of Human Services, the Child Safety Commissioner and the Department of Community Development.
In the email, the legal service describes the case as “the abhorrent detention of 16/17 year olds in adult prisons … under … draconian conditions … this in our view breaches both the Victorian Charter (of Human Rights) and CROC (the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child).”
One week after the email was sent, the 16-year-old was released back into youth detention to the Malmsbury Juvenile Justice Centre.
7.30 Victoria understands the two 17-year-olds have been moved out of solitary confinement but remain at Port Phillip Prison.
The Law Institute wants the case investigated.
“I think we need to know firstly how many young offenders, how many juveniles are being held in adult prisons, how prevalent this is,” Mr Holcroft said.
“I certainly hope not very, and then someone needs to look at this particular case and find out what went wrong.
“I’m sure the Department of Corrections has that material but it’s not something they’re likely to share very freely… it’s probably embarrassing.”
7.30 Victoria asked Premier Ted Baillieu, along with Ms Wooldridge, Mr McIntosh and Mr Clark to appear on the program to comment on the case, but all declined.
In a statement, Mr Clark said while he attended the September 19 meeting, he left before the case of the 16-year-old was raised.