MEDIA RELEASE 24 June 2021
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS)

IBAC’s Special report on corrections: IBAC Operations Rous, Caparra, Nisidia and Molara makes a clear link between the expansion in prison capacity and an increase in corruption within the corrections system.

The Andrews Government’s tough on crime agenda, including the implementation of draconian bail laws, and has led to bigger prisons, more inexperienced staff, and a wider use of private contractors.

VALS has consistently advised the Andrews Government that its tough on crime agenda and draconian bail laws are a failed policy. The IBAC report is further proof that these policies must be urgently abandoned.

People in prison are being exposed to mistreatment and abuse that includes corrections staff engaging in excessive use of force, inappropriate strip searches, interfering with camera recordings, and trafficking contraband. In one instance, a person with an intellectual disability was subjected to the excessive use of force. In another, a person was strip searched for seven minutes in violation of the prison’s own policy, and assaulted by staff when he protested. The report found prison staff have limited understanding of human rights obligations and some have never received any training on safeguarding the rights of people in prison.

VALS notes the gross lack of transparency and accountability for misconduct by prison staff, particularly in relation to private prisons. Some corrections officers who committed abuses were only disciplined by management after several months, once IBAC had commenced its investigation. In several cases, staff appeared to have interfered with cameras to hide footage of their misconduct. Incident reports simply recorded the version of events presented by the staff involved, ignoring the allegations from people subjected to abuse.

This IBAC report highlights the urgent need for independent oversight of places of detention. The Victorian Government has until January 2022 to properly implement robust independent oversight of places of detention under its UN OPCAT obligations. That means that the OPCAT detention oversight body, the NPM, must be well resourced, have its powers and privileges legislated, and be culturally safe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Infrequent investigations like these by IBAC are an insufficient protection of the human rights of people in prison.

VALS again calls on the Andrews Government to implement urgent bail reforms in line with the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody that called for bail to be made more accessible and for incarceration to only be used as a last resort. The seriousness of the abuse uncovered in Victoria’s corrections systems makes reducing the number of people in prison, particularly Aboriginal people, even more urgent.

Quotes Attributable to Andreea Lachsz, Head of Policy, Communications and Strategy, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

“IBAC’s report found that prison expansion and privatisation are contributing factors to corruption and shocking abuse within Victoria’s Corrections system.”

“Corrections staff engaging in excessive use of force, inappropriate strip searches, interfering with camera recordings, trafficking contraband – these are just some of the abuses IBAC found.”

“Many of the abuses in the report happened at Port Phillip, a private facility. Victoria needs to dismantle the private prison industry, in which profits trump human rights, transparency and accountability.”

“There’s clearly a culture of disregard for human rights in Victorian prisons. Victoria needs legislation, that clearly outlines obligations and consequences for non-compliance, to properly safeguard against human rights abuses in prisons.”

“While we welcome IBAC’s recommendations for greater training and oversight of corrections staff, it is critical that the Andrews Government urgently proceed with bail reform and other policies to reduce the overall prison population, which is at risk of abuses like the ones outlined in the report.”

“Because of the Andrews Government’s draconian bail laws, we have seen an alarming increase in the number of people held on remand in prison. 44% of people currently in prison haven’t been found guilty of anything. The bail laws are in direct conflict with the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and we now have yet another independent report condemning the abuses and corruption endemic to Victorian prisons.”

“On the 15th anniversary of OPCAT, this report makes clear how urgently Victoria needs to establish an OPCAT detention oversight body to prevent human rights abuses in prisons.”