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Published: 10 September 2019
Author: Emma Muse

Solitary confinement poses "serious risk of long-term harm" to young - Ombudsman

It may surprise many people that under the Andrews Government children and young people in prison or detainment are subject to punishments which amount to solitary confinement.

These practices were the target of criticism last week in a report released by the Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, who found that such practices were damaging to children and young people in Victorian prisons and the youth justice system.

What is solitary confinement?

Solitary confinement can be understood as being isolated for 22 hours a day or more without meaningful human contact, under the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

While Victorian legislation does not use the term “solitary confinement”, the names of the practices that amount to the same treatment include “isolation”, “seclusion” or “separation”.

Whatever it is called, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass has found that these practices damage rather than help youth in the system to rehabilitate.

Ms Glass has found that the practice of solitary confinement in Victoria’s youth justice systems is “likely to be contrary to law, incompatible with Victoria’s human rights legislation, oppressive, discriminatory or simply, wrong”, especially because “young people […] are still developing physically, mentally, neurologically and socially” which in turn means that solitary confinement poses “a serious risk of long-term harm”.

Ms Glass has made 27 recommendations to the state government, including that solitary confinement, be prohibited by legislation.

The link between solitary confinement and abuse

At RCT Law our Abuse Law department has heard many harrowing stories of clients who have suffered ongoing psychological harm from being placed in isolation while they were in “care”.

Many of our clients were forced to suffer in solitary confinement. In addition to having suffered prolonged solitary confinement, many of our clients report that they often suffered physical and sexual abuse while there.

We support Ms Glass’ recommendations and echo her sentiments that “smarter investment in both facilities and people should deliver far better returns than strengthened perimeter fencing”.

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