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Issue #1775      May 3, 2017

Guards punched, restrained boys

In February, when disturbing details emerged about the incident at the Barwon maximum security adult prison where the Victorian government is detaining around 21 boys aged between 15 and 18 years old, lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, Alina Leikin, met with the boys. She was shocked to hear reports of systematic violence, from the boys who are her clients.

“Numerous children are telling me they were pinned to the floor by guards from the adult section of the prison and kicked and punched in the head,” said Leikin.

In contrast to the government’s report of the incident provided to 3AW, Leikin said she was told of chaotic scenes after guards indiscriminately capsicum-sprayed boys in a confined space. Having spoken individually with ten of the boys, Leikinʼs understanding of the event is as follows:

  • The incident rapidly escalated after an adult prison officer drew his capsicum spray and threatened two boys
  • Capsicum spray was used indiscriminately in the confined space of the unit by multiple adult prison officers
  • Boys who weren’t involved in any disturbance, who were eating dinner were sprayed directly and deliberately
  • Most of the boys were then locked out of the unit in the exercise yard. The damage to the yard and the visit centre then followed. The Barwon Prison Security and Emergency Response Group (SESG) were then brought in to handcuff the boys and take them back inside the unit. Teams of three or more SESG guards ordered individual boys to lie on the floor of their cells or kneel with their heads against the wall.

The boys were incapacitated by SESG guards with one kneeling on their back, another holding their face down to the floor and others incapacitating their arms and legs. Numerous boys report then being assaulted while incapacitated by SESG staff with punches to the face and head and kicks to the ribs, back and head.

Threats were made like “Next time I’ll break you” and “We run this joint”. Numerous boys have visible injuries including bruising. One boy was hospitalised with a head injury requiring stitches and one was hospitalised after a self-harm incident. A number of the boys were put on suicide watch. Many of the boys are being locked in their cells for 23 to 23.5 hours per day. Some are being handcuffed whenever they are outside of their cell. Leikin said she was disturbed that the reports suggest a deliberate and systematic use of violence and threats against her clients.

“There must be a full, independent investigation into this incident and the Victorian government needs to wake up and realise that locking up children in the state’s most notorious adult jail is only going to make matters worse. Premier Andrews has clearly failed to heed the lessons of Don Dale,” said Leikin.

In December last year, the Human Rights Law Centre successfully challenged the legality of the Victorian government’s decision to send the children to adult prison, but the government subsequently sidestepped the Court’s ruling by again reclassifying a section of Barwon prison as a youth detention facility.

“Yes, these boys have made some bad decisions, but at the end of the day they are kids and as a community we shouldn’t just give up on them. Throwing them into a brutal adult prison will harden them at the very time when we should be showing them that there are positive alternatives, that they can choose a better way,” said Leikin.

Next article – Arts under Socialism

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