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Parkville Youth Justice Centre – A disaster still standing

How and why is Parkville Youth Justice Centre still standing and will it continue to do so indefinitely?

It has been widely reported that the Victorian Government recently backflipped on its decision to shut down Parkville Youth Justice Centre.

In addition, youth justice centre reports have shown is not secure, is not providing any form of rehabilitation to young offenders and is overcrowded, leading to brutal assaults and riots by inmates.

The Parkville Youth Justice Centre opened in 1993, taking over the site where Baltara Reception Centre was, which closed in 1992. Various government receptions centres and detention centres have been run on the site for young people, and complaints of sexual and physical abuse there are rife. The RCT Abuse Law team has acted for hundreds of former wards of the State in claims against the State for abuse there.

Since opening, the youth justice centre has had some renovations and additional buildings added. The youth justice centre has previously come under criticism for its unsafe design and construction weakness whereby it is not built for high-security containment. Not surprisingly, these flaws have been identified and exploited by the young prisoners, who have broken through the insecure barriers.

Riots lead to independent review

The State Government vowed in 2017 to close Parkville Youth Justice Centre. This was a result of a series of incidents occurring at the youth justice centre, where prisoners caused significant damage rioting. Some of these included:

In November 2016, approximately 30 prisoners trashed their cells and the riot lasted 17 hours.

In January 2017, 20 prisoners broke out of one unit and were attempting to make their way into another unit. The prisoners broke into the roof cavity of the building. Staff were evacuated and more than 35 police, including the public order response team and the dog squad, were brought in to take control of the riot.

More recently, in February of this year, a prisoner was able to get onto the roof of the youth justice centre. He was walking around the roof, had a metal bar in his hand and at one stage was seen throwing rocks, kicking the air conditioner units and pulling up the solar panels on the roof. This incident caused the entire centre to be placed on lockdown.

As a result of the riots in 2016 and 2017, an independent review was conducted by former Victorian Police Chief Commissioner, Neil Comrie. The overall adequacy of the youth justice centre for its intended purposes was reviewed as well as the circumstances leading up to the riots.

Decision for Cherry Creek facility

In 2017, the State Government announced they would build a new youth supermax prison in Cherry Creek and that Parkville Youth Justice Centre would be closed. Premier Daniel Andrews announced $288 million would be put towards the new supermax facility, as a result of the findings of the Neil Comrie inquiry.

The report of Neil Comrie (‘Comrie report’), found:

  • The Parkville Youth Justice Precinct has inherent safety and security issues arising from the construction and design of the Precinct, including its grounds
  • These safety and security issues impede the proper supervision of young people and are an unacceptable risk to staff and young people
  • The Precinct is not adequate for its intended purpose. Due to the safety risks, no rehabilitation or effective programs are being run.

The Backflip

This week it was announced that Parkville Youth Justice Centre will continue to operate. It will facilitate females and males under the age of 15.

The Cherry Creek supermax facility will only cater for young males aged between 15 to 18 years old who are sentenced or on remand and require targeted intervention and of higher risk. It will have only 140 beds, as opposed to the original plan of having 240.

Is the decision to keep Parkville Youth Justice Centre a way for the government to cut costs, instead of focusing on the safety and rehabilitation of young offenders? Is this the safest decision for young and vulnerable Australians? Only time will tell. Given the history of abuse at the Parkville Youth Justice Centre, its future and the future of the young people living inside certainly requires further consideration and close scrutiny.