Closure of two prisons a recognition of state violence towards Aboriginal peoples

VALS welcomes the announcement of the closure of Port Phillip and Dhurringile Prisons. Prisons represent sites of significant harm and suffering for our people. They do not rehabilitate people and they do not make communities safer.

VALS contends that the two sites should be recommissioned and decolonised, the Victorian government should support Aboriginal communities to self-determine how these sites should be transformed into places that support community members involved in the criminal legal system. Instead of being sites associated with suffering and harm, they should provide supports that are trauma-informed with therapeutic interventions that focus on healing mob, and healing Country.

It is significant that this announcement comes with no new prisons being built, as the current correctional infrastructure available is sufficient to absorb the numbers of people in prison. The Western Plains Prison, which has sat empty since it was built in 2022, will house those who are currently incarcerated in the privately run Port Phillip Prison.

VALS hopes that the transition of those currently incarcerated in Port Phillip Prison to a publicly run facility will result in safer conditions including access to adequate and culturally appropriate healthcare. Healthcare for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in Western Plains Prison should be delivered by ACCHOs and should include holistic cultural support programs, as recommended in the Cultural Review of the Adult Custodial Corrections Systems.

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people are the most incarcerated people on earth. There is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander death in custody once every three weeks in Australia. Despite representing less than 2 per cent of the Victorian population, Aboriginal people represent approximately 20 per cent of the people in Port Phillip and Dhurringile Prisons.

The closure of these two prisons is a strong acknowledgment of the recommendations from ACCOs, including VALS, the Aboriginal Justice Caucus and the Yoorrook Justice Commission. The decision also reflects the concerns raised by the Cultural Review of the Adult Custodial Corrections System.

VALS continues to call on the Victorian Government to commit to moving towards a zero prison population. Prisons are inherently violent and corrupt places. Getting people out of prison and keeping them out of prison by providing strong supports, is the only way to make our communities safe. We must work collectively to minimise the trauma and violence that prison inflicts on people.

VALS also encourages the Allan Labor Government to implement OPCAT and establish an independent detention oversight body so that the well-documented failures of Port Phillip and Dhurringile Prisons are not simply transferred to Western Plains. We are open to working with government to ensure that the implementation of OPCAT is done adequately, with the expertise of our Wirraway Prison and Police Accountability Practice and informed by the many coronial inquest findings for our people.

Victoria should commit to rebuilding the legal system and making investments that facilitate rehabilitation and empower stronger families and communities. We need to focus on self-determined community-based supports, prevention, early intervention, rehabilitation and healing. We are at our best when we are connected to community and in community.

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:

“Today is a significant day for our communities, our calls have been heard; prisons do not rehabilitate people, they traumatise and harm people which in turns poses greater risk to community safety.”

“The Allan government has made the right call, now this needs to be backed up with investment in Aboriginal-led, self-determined early intervention and community-based supports that rehabilitate and heal.”

“Privately run, profit-driven prisons are extremely unsafe places for our people. A prison sentence shouldn’t be a death sentence, and our peoples’ lives are not something to profit from.”

“We have lost so many of our community members due to these places of significant harm and torture. We hold their names in our hearts and will continue to advocate for justice in their memory.”

“To ensure that all places of detention are safe and do not cause harm the Victorian Government must establish an independent oversight body to protect and uphold the rights of people in prison. We must develop an oversight system that is informed by best practice and meets the standards set out in the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). Australia lags behind in our implementation of independent detention oversight, and now is an opportunity for Victoria to lead the way for Australian states and territories.”

Quotes Attributable to Sarah Schwartz, Principal Managing Lawyer of VALS’ Wirraway Practice:

“We are currently representing five Aboriginal families who have lost loved ones in Victoria’s prisons. They were all in their 30s and 40s and should never have died. Prisons are fundamentally dangerous for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and do not create community safety. We must move towards different ways of addressing harm, this must be led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

“We have represented clients who have been cruelly detained in conditions of solitary confinement and have suffered abuse and neglect at Port Phillip Prison. We hope this closure is a signal of the end of cruel and needless human rights abuses in Victoria’s prisons.”  

“Victoria needs to rid itself of global private prison conglomerates, who prioritise profits over care. We hope this signals an end to unaccountable and neglectful private operators in Victoria’s corrections system.”


273 High St, Preston VIC 3072

1800 064 865

Privacy Policy