Thursday, 21 March 2024

Questions without notice and ministers statements

Cherry Creek Youth Justice Centre

Katherine COPSEY, Enver ERDOGAN

Cherry Creek Youth Justice Centre

Katherine COPSEY (Southern Metropolitan) (12:42): (484) My question is to the Minister for Youth Justice. Minister, on 26 January this year at the Cherry Creek Youth Justice Centre there was a decision made to lock children in isolation in their cells for the entire day, apart from 30 minutes. This constitutes solitary confinement of children, which is prohibited under international law. As you said in this place on 30 August last year:

… the Cherry Creek model is a different model; it is about giving young people the best chance to turn their lives around.

Stakeholders have repeatedly raised concerns about routine overuse of isolation on children in Victorian prisons, and this seems to be still routinely used at Cherry Creek. Minister, when were you first made aware that Cherry Creek would be in lockdown on 26 January?

Enver ERDOGAN (Northern Metropolitan – Minister for Corrections, Minister for Youth Justice, Minister for Victim Support) (12:42): I thank Ms Copsey for that question and for her interest in our youth justice system in particular. Let me be very clear, the legislation expressly prohibits isolating a person as a form of punishment. But it is needed, and there are set guidelines and legislation on the use of isolation. The reasons could be behavioural or they could be for the security of the premises. It would be quite seriously considered before being implemented. I know the dedicated staff that work in the field really do care about the welfare of the young people that are in their custody and dynamic risks are assessed in making these decisions. The question you are asking is really about an operational matter. It is a matter that actually came up at the most recent Aboriginal Justice Forum, which I attended with the Attorney-General, raised by the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. Our commissioner there explained that isolation was used at Cherry Creek in that instance to arrest concerning behaviour – so for security reasons. In my normal practice I get regular briefings on these matters. In relation to that matter, I was briefed about it last week.

Katherine COPSEY (Southern Metropolitan) (12:44): Thank you, Minister. In November I asked your office a number of questions on notice about children and young people in custody. I asked how many hours on average are spent on education activities when children are not locked up and how many hours every day on average children and young people actually spend locked up in their rooms. I asked for that information to be disaggregated in the standard fashion by facility, gender, age and whether those children were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. The answer to all my questions on notice was that this data is not available. Given the government has refused to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 this term and you are still locking children up, why can’t you provide this straightforward information in writing about the welfare of the children who are, as a result, imprisoned in our prison system?

The PRESIDENT: I am struggling to see how that is supplementary to the substantive question you asked.

Katherine COPSEY: It is about isolation in our youth justice facilities, including Cherry Creek, which was the matter of the substantive.

The PRESIDENT: The substantive question was ‘When were you made aware of a certain incident?’ The minister answered that. You can draw a supplementary from your substantive question or the minister’s answer. I am struggling to see how that supplementary question can pertain to the substantive question and the minister’s answer, but I am happy to hear a point of order if you disagree.

Katherine COPSEY: Thank you. The point of order would be that the supplementary is related to the substantive. I asked about the conditions in which children were kept in isolation in a youth justice facility and the minister’s awareness of that. I am also asking for information regarding his office’s understanding of what is occurring to children when they are in isolation.

The PRESIDENT: The issue I have is that the supplementary is much broader than the substantive, given the minister has 1 minute to answer a supplementary. I am happy if you want to try and rephrase for a supplementary that pertains to the original substantive question you asked or the minister’s answer, if you would like to have a crack at that.

Katherine COPSEY: Thank you. I will simply ask for that information. Minister, does your office have that information in relation to the disaggregated data on the children that were subjected to lockdown on 26 January at Cherry Creek?

Enver ERDOGAN (Northern Metropolitan – Minister for Corrections, Minister for Youth Justice, Minister for Victim Support) (12:47): I thank Ms Copsey for her supplementary question and her interest in our youth justice system. As Minister for Youth Justice I have regular briefings with the department. They cover a range of information. Most of it is regularly published online, if you wish to see.

In relation to the use of isolation, I have been very clear that all people are observed and supported throughout that time and have an ability to get fresh air as needed. I have been very clear in my expectations that I want to see a reduction in isolation. I was pleased that the youth justice commissioner most recently updated at the Aboriginal Justice Forum that there is a downward trend in the use of isolation across our two facilities. Of course there is more to be done, but there are dynamic risks that our staff deal with, and at times there will be a need to use isolation when there are behavioural issues that threaten safety or the security of the facility. Our staff do an extraordinary job, and they do not make these decisions easily. I want to say thank you to all the staff in our youth justice system.