The detention of teenagers at Victoria’s maximum security prison has been slammed by a human rights lawyer, as the State Government faces a third legal challenge to the practice.
A youth justice centre was hastily-established at Barwon Prison after riots at the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre in Parkville destroyed accommodation there last November.
The Human Rights Law Centre has launched the fresh legal action on behalf of a number of 16 and 17-year-olds, arguing the establishment of a youth justice centre inside the grounds of the adult prison was unlawful.
Its executive director Hugh de Kretser said he hoped the case would prevent any child from being detained in a maximum security adult jail.
“It damages their rehabilitation and ultimately harms community safety,” he said.
“We need safe, humane, age-appropriate youth justice facilities that help to get these kids’ lives back on track.
“Barwon Prison does the opposite.”
Last week a 16-year-old boy being detained at Barwon Prison suffered a fractured vertebra after being bashed by fellow inmates.
Guards have used capsicum spray to break up a fight between detainees at the centre. They are also authorised to use tear gas.
Youth unit at Barwon ‘safe, legal, secure’: Government
The Victorian Government lost a Supreme Court case against housing children at Barwon Prison last December, in a ruling which found their detention was unlawful.
Justice Greg Garde found the children’s human rights had not been upheld and ordered they be moved to a suitable youth facility.
But after losing an appeal to that ruling, the Government reclassified a unit at the prison for a second time in a move which it said addressed the issues raised by the court.
Minister for Families and Children Jenny Mikakos said the Government would strongly defend the latest court challenge.
“Barwon Prison’s Grevillea Unit was lawfully established and is safe, secure and functioning appropriately as a youth justice facility and remand centre,” she said.
About 20 teenagers as young as 15 are currently being held at Barwon prison.
The case will begin in the Supreme Court on Monday.