On 12 to 14 November 2016, a series of incidents occurred at the Parkville Youth Justice Precinct during which detainees caused significant damage to the Precinct. An independent review was conducted by Neil Comrie AO APM to inquire and report on:

  • the overall adequacy of the Precinct for its intended purpose (stage 1)
  • the circumstances leading up to the incidents (stage 2).

The Victorian Government accepts all findings and recommendations of the review, with work already underway to build a new fit-for-purpose youth justice facility that will incorporate all of the design and security imperatives outlined by Mr Comrie in his report.

Author
Neil Comrie AO APM
Publisher
Neil Comrie AO APM
Date of Publication

Stage 1 Executive Summary

Background

On 12 to 14 November 2016, a series of incidents occurred at the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre (which is part of the Parkville Youth Justice Precinct [the Precinct]) during which a number of detainees caused significant damage to the four accommodation units and Programs Centre.

The Review

The Department of Health and Human Services (the department) engaged independent consultant Neil Comrie AO APM (the Reviewer) to report to the department on these incidents and on any specific or safety issues arising from the construction and design of the Precinct, including its grounds, that impede the proper supervision of young people and/or provide a risk to staff and young people, and whether the Precinct’s buildings comply with relevant standards for the design and construction of custodial facilities. In considering these issues, the Reviewer was required to provide advice on the overall adequacy of the Precinct for its intended purpose.

The Parkville Youth Justice Precinct

There is a recorded history of youth justice services operating at or near the current Parkville site since the 1890’s. The Precinct has evolved since this time with the periodic addition of new buildings and alterations to existing buildings. The current residential units were constructed in the early 1990’s and the Remand Unit was built in 2005. In 2011 a significant investment was made in the Precinct with the enhancement of perimeter security surrounding all of the custodial facilities. While this perimeter security has proven to be an effective barrier to escape and unlawful entry to/from the Precinct, there have been ongoing problems with the security of buildings within this perimeter.

These security problems and other issues relating to the general suitability of the Precinct have been the subject of a number of previous review reports that have highlighted key issues relating to:

  • the capability and quality of Secure Services’ workforce
  • the overall operating model and the safe and secure operation of the facilities
  • infrastructure weaknesses.

Following these previous reports, substantial funding has been committed to improve the security and utility of the Precinct. However, this previous investment in the Precinct has not been able to address the inherent fundamental design and construction weaknesses in the accommodation units that were initially built for residential purposes and not for high security containment. These fundamental flaws have become more exposed and evident in recent years and are now being exploited by a cohort of young violent offenders who are intent on breaking through insecure barriers and causing purposeless, wanton criminal damage to the Precinct facilities.

As a consequence of the incidents of 12 to 14 November 2016, where extensive damage was caused to the Precinct, rendering all of the residential units at the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre uninhabitable, there are major works being undertaken to reinstate, strengthen and fortify these units. Nevertheless, the Reviewer has concluded that these works can only be an interim response to a situation that requires a more extensive and holistic long-term solution.

Figure 1: shows damaged ceiling with plasterboard pulled down and wiring exposedDigure 2: Damaged ceiling with air-conditioning vent pulled free, plasterboard ripped and wiring exposed

Figure 1 and 2: Damage to the ceiling

Two images - figure 3 shows a stairwell with broken door glass, wiring hanging from the ceiling. Figure 4 shows broken glass in a door

Figure 3 and 4: Damage to a residential unit

Figure 5: image taken outside showing graffiti on a brick wall underneath a large window with multiple broken panes. Figure 6:new steel vent covers

Figure 5: Damage to the Programs Centre
Figure 6: New steel vent covers

Contextual Issues

Recently, the issue of violent youth crime has been an issue of ongoing attention in the media and the subject of considerable public debate with regard to community safety. This social problem, especially serious violent crime by young persons with suspected community or so- called “gang” affiliations, presents a range of difficulties and challenges not previously dealt with on the same scale in Victoria and has required a range of new and innovative responses from government and the criminal justice sector.

Responses by the Government and criminal justice system to this emergent social problem have resulted in significant increases in the numbers of young offenders involved in serious violent crime entering the youth justice system. The numbers of these young offenders on remand has also increased exponentially whereby the ratio of those on remand to those undergoing sentences presents a new range of challenges in custodial management for youth justice services on a day to day basis.

An additional layer of complexity regarding the profile of young people entering the youth justice system is that the Youth Parole Board has consistently voiced concerns regarding the over representation of young people with mental health, trauma and intellectual disabilities in custody. Of further concern is the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island, Maori and Pacific Island and South Sudanese young people in youth justice services.

It is also important to acknowledge that the physical stature of a significant number of young male violent offenders entering the youth justice system has changed markedly in recent years. It is not unusual today for young male offenders to be in excess of 100 kilograms in weight and 190 centimetres in height. Some of these offenders are very conscious of the fact that they can use their physical stature to intimidate staff and other clients and do so on a regular basis.

A further recent challenge that has emerged for youth justice services is the management of detainees placed in custody for terrorism related offences. These young persons need to be very carefully accommodated to not only ensure their own safety but to ensure they do not radicalise other impressionable clients.

These young people often present major challenges for youth justice staff who are tasked with their daily management in a custodial environment. The issue of the capability of staff to deal with these challenges is one that must be addressed along with new and improved infrastructure and a modern operating model. Staff recruitment, training and equipment must be revisited to ensure that youth justice workers are capable of intervening early in incidents of violent or disruptive behaviour by detainees and not be reliant on police responses to these situations as is the case at present. The issue of staff capability will be addressed more fully in the Stage Two report of this Review.

The recent announcement by the Government of the funding of an additional 2,729 police officers over the next four years will certainly lead to flow-on additional demands on the Children’s Court and related services and on many areas of the department including Secure Services.

These contextual issues are considered to be highly relevant as this Review has been tasked with reporting on the overall adequacy of the Precinct for its intended purpose. Because of the extensive pressure brought to bear on the youth justice system as a consequence of the changing number and nature of clients now entering this system, it is both reasonable and important to question whether the intended purpose of the Precinct when it was first planned and developed over two decades ago is still a valid basis on which to determine the intended purpose of the Precinct now and for the foreseeable future.

Conclusion

Having undertaken extensive consultations with key stakeholders, considered previous reports on relevant issues and incidents and inspected the facilities at the Parkville and Malmsbury Youth Justice Precincts on a number of occasions, the Reviewer has concluded that the Parkville Precinct is not adequate for its intended purpose.

The many recognised benefits that flow from positive rehabilitation and education programs and activities will only be fully realised when the safety and security of all clients and staff within the youth justice system can be assured.

To ensure that this imperative is realised, the Reviewer has recommended that the department develop a business plan for the construction of a new youth justice precinct at a suitable location (other than at the current Parkville Precinct). It is also recommended that a number of security and design imperatives are taken into account in this planning process. The security imperatives include precinct perimeter, unit perimeter to secure individual units and internal unit security which requires correctional standard construction of all internal walls, doors, windows and ceilings, and should be capable of being isolated in the event of an incident to prevent escalation and support operational control.

The way forward

Design imperatives that should be accommodated in any new precinct plan include an effective assessment and classification system for clients, a high level intervention unit to allow for management of clients requiring intensive supervision and treatment for medical and health issues, facilities for activities, education and programs, secure areas for family visitation and other community engagement activities and graduated security regimes that include the provision of high risk security accommodation.

The development of a staffing model that best supports these imperatives is also recommended. 

Findings

  1. The Parkville Youth Justice Precinct has inherent safety and security issues arising from the construction and design of the Precinct, including its grounds.
  2. These safety and security issues impede the proper supervision of young people and are an unacceptable risk to staff and young people.
  3. The Precinct is not adequate for its intended purpose.

Recommendations

  1. It is recommended that the department develop a business plan for the construction of a new
    youth justice precinct at a suitable location (other than at the current Parkville Precinct).
  2. It is recommended that in the development of plans for a new youth justice precinct, that consideration is given to:
    • the security and design imperatives detailed in this report
    • a staffing model that best supports these imperatives; and
    • the findings and recommendations arising from the ongoing independent external Armytage/Ogloff review of youth support, youth diversion and youth justice services.

Stage 2 Executive Summary

On Saturday 12 to Monday 14 November 2016, a number of serious incidents occurred at the Parkville Youth Justice Precinct (PYJP).These incidents involved riotous behaviour by young offenders in the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre (MYJC) Southbank, Westgate, Oakview and Eastern Hill units and resulted in major damage being caused to the infrastructure of these units as well as the programs and education centre. This damage was so extensive as to render the MYJC (part of the PYJP) as uninhabitable with the loss of 60 beds in the youth justice system.

Victoria Police (VicPol) attended the PYJP on two occasions over this weekend under the pre-determined protocol arrangements between the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and VicPol code-named Operation Pearl.

On 12 November at about 5.50 pm, an assault on a staff member by a young offender in the Southbank unit and a subsequent decision to lockdown all units precipitated a serious outbreak of violent and destructive behaviour by other young offenders in that unit and at the Westgate unit. Infrastructure weaknesses (previously detailed in the Stage One report of this Review) at the PYJP were exploited by these young offenders who were able to gain access to the roof space, break out of the Westgate unit and also damage the programs and education centre. This major incident was finally resolved at about 1 am on 13 November when VicPol handed control of the PYJP back to DHHS.

On 13 November, at 6.15 pm three young offenders in the Eastern Hill unit gained access to the roof space. One fell through the roof back into the unit and was restrained by staff while the other two young offenders gained access to the gable roof. At about 7.45 pm, these two young offenders surrendered to staff. VicPol was not called to this incident.

At about midnight on 13 November, two young offenders accessed the roof cavity at the Oakview unit whereupon they set about damaging the ceiling and causing the release of other young offenders from their rooms. About eight of these young offenders breached the external structures of the unit and threatened staff with makeshift weapons. These young offenders then breached the Southbank and Eastern Hill units as well as the programs and education centre. Bedrooms in the other units were breached enabling further young offenders to exit their unit and disperse across the secure site hampering their apprehension by Police. Collectively, 28 young offenders from four units engaged in extensive property damage and riotous behaviour. The incident was finally bought to an end at 6.30 pm after lasting for about 18 and a half hours.

This Review of the incidents at the PYJP on 12 to 14 November 2016 provides a further opportunity to reflect on previous incidents at both the Malmsbury YJP and the PYJP. Some common themes emerge from these reviews;

  • As discussed in the Stage One report, an increased number of young persons are committing serious criminal offences, often involving violence. These offenders are finding their way through the criminal justice system into the youth justice system where they are regularly challenging this system in a number of ways.
  • Many of the young offenders now entering the youth justice system have no respect for authority of any kind and regularly challenge and refuse to comply with instructions from youth justice staff.
  • The management of those on remand presents Youth Justice services with additional challenges as these young offenders are often unsettled and uncertain about what their future is in the youth justice system. Approximately 80 per cent of young offenders in the PYJP may now be on remand at any given time, a significant increase on what was the case historically. In fact, it is the inverse of the historical 20 per cent / 80 per cent ratio of those on remand compared to sentenced young offenders.
  • Youth justice staff in some instances are either unable or unwilling to intervene early in disturbances or violence by young offenders and appear to lack the confidence to do so because:
    • They are inadequately trained or equipped to deal with the situation; or
    • While some have a strong commitment to youth work, they are otherwise not suited to operating in a custodial environment where a physical response may be required to deal with an incident. (This statement does not intend to infer that youth justice workers of small stature are not capable of intervening in such situations providing they are properly trained and equipped); or
    • They may be temporary agency staff who have low levels of relevant training and no ongoing investment in the system; or
    • Staff numbers are inadequate to deal with the numbers of young offenders involved; or
    • Infrastructure weaknesses in both design and construction do not support intervention activities by staff; or
    • They are concerned at what they consider to be the intensive level of scrutiny (both internal and external) of their actions and that they may face disciplinary action following the use of restraints.
  • Over time, the infrastructure weaknesses, particularly at PYJP have been identified and exploited by young offenders to the point that this conduct has become commonplace rather than the exception.
  • The severe limitations of accommodation options within the current youth justice infrastructure often results in an undesirable mix of young offenders in units which can lead to disturbances and incidents of violence and are a significant barrier to the positive progress of individual case management plans.
  • A high level of tension prevails within the youth justice precincts, a situation that is counterproductive to the primary objectives of rehabilitation of young offenders and their ultimate positive reintegration into the community. Constant disturbances and related lockdowns seriously interfere with the delivery of programs that are critical to this rehabilitative process.

The decision by the Victorian Government to transfer youth justice services from DHHS to the Department of Justice and Regulation (DoJR) as of 3 April 2017 provides an opportunity for the expertise of this department to inform both a strengthened approach to the safety and security of youth justice facilities and for the selection and training of staff regarding intervention in incidents. This decision also provides the opportunity for a much needed effective intelligence system to be developed within the youth justice framework and for this system to be linked to the existing law enforcement intelligence network in Victoria.

It is clear that a defining point has been reached in the long history of youth justice in Victoria. Infrastructure, policy and systems that were designed and built for a different era have proven to be incapable of delivering the imperative of a safe and secure youth justice system in 2016/17. All other interventions and programs that are critical to the rehabilitation of young offenders are compromised in an environment that is not safe and secure.

It is also very important that an infrastructure development plan is seen as part of a cohesive youth justice system and that infrastructure supports an effective classification system where more specialised and tailored rehabilitation programs can be delivered to young offenders. Each youth justice facility should be seen as one component of a comprehensive custody management strategy that allows for high security, medium security and minimum security classifications and purpose built environments that reflect and complement these classifications.

It is the view of the Reviewer that the incidents of 12 to 14 November 2016 were a consequence of long-standing infrastructure and systemic failures that were exploited by a young offender group that is presenting a new range of serious challenges to the criminal justice system. In these circumstances, it is not appropriate to find individual fault with regard to the incidents of 12 to 14 November 2016, but it is important that the infrastructure weaknesses and systemic faults identified in this report are addressed as a matter of high priority.

Recommendations

  1. That necessary action is taken through policy and training revision to ensure that all youth justice staff are enabled to effectively intervene in situations that involve violent or disruptive behaviour by young offenders in youth justice facilities.
  2. That a review is undertaken of policy and training of youth justice workers regarding the use of restraints and that the Commissioner for Children and Young People is consulted during this review process.
  3. That necessary action is taken to train youth justice staff to isolate as soon as possible any part of a unit or facility in which violent or disruptive behaviour by young offenders is occurring to prevent other young offenders joining and escalating such behaviour.
  4. That unit managers undertake regular risk assessments to identify all tools or other implements that can be adapted as weapons and where such items are identified that prompt action is taken to remediate these risks.
  5. That youth justice staff advise their supervisors at the earliest possible opportunity of any evidence or indication that young offenders may be planning disruptive behaviour and that supervisors record such advice and communicate this advice as soon as possible to the Operations Manager on duty.
  6. That during negotiations with young offenders to resolve incidents of riot or other disturbance that the requirements of the Youth Justice Custodial Services Practice Manual regarding demands made by young offenders be strictly observed and concessions are not made relating to escape or release, transfer, staff dismissal, amnesty from offences committed during riot or serious disturbance, provision of objects which could be used to further the riot or serious disturbance, or the provision of alcohol, drugs, money or access to leave.
  7. That all Youth Justice staff be reminded of the importance of reporting security or infrastructure problems as soon as possible.
  8. That Youth Justice establish an effective intelligence system and that necessary action be taken to link this intelligence system with existing intelligence systems within the Victorian law enforcement intelligence network.
  9. That Youth Justice facilities are staffed by workers who:
    • understand and accept that their primary role is to maintain the safety and security of youth justice facilities, and
    • understand and accept that this obligation may from time to time require them to physically intervene in incidents of violent or disruptive behaviour, and
    • are well trained and equipped with the necessary operational safety and tactical equipment to ensure that they can effectively intervene in incidents of violent or disruptive behaviour.
  10. That adequate numbers of highly trained specialist staff (currently known as the SERT) are rostered daily to ensure that an early and effective intervention can be actioned as a high priority to address incidents of violent or disruptive behaviour.
  11. That the use of agency staff is minimised as soon as possible.

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