Vic jail guards 'using disturbing' force'

·2-min read

Security guards in two Victorian prisons are using a "disturbing" amount of excessive force to detain prisoners, a new report says.

Victoria's Ombudsman Deborah Glass looked into allegations of unreasonable use of force and assault at the Metropolitan Remand Centre and Melbourne Assessment Prison between 2018 and 2021.

In that time period, 18 use of force incidents at the two prisons were referred for formal employee misconduct investigations.

They included an incident where a prisoner in his cell was choked and slapped by a guard at the MRC in September 2018 after he allegedly made a belligerent comment.

Another prisoner with an acquired brain injury reported being kicked in the head by five guards after the court transport van left him behind at MRC in February 2020.

The allegations, not all of which were substantiated, were concerning and showed poor decision making by officers, Ms Glass said in the report tabled to the Victorian parliament on Wednesday.

"The evidence from these investigations ... illustrates the persistent and endemic nature of the problem, despite the efforts of Corrections Victoria," Ms Glass said.

"Allegations of unreasonable use of force do not appear to be declining and the incidents in this report present a disturbing picture."

Substantiated claims of excessive force were relatively small compared to the number of complaints made, largely because it was difficult to obtain conclusive evidence, Ms Glass said.

There were also occasions when the prisoner genuinely believed excessive force was used but the guards' actions were still in accordance with policies and procedures, the ombudsman noted.

Ms Glass made 12 recommendations to the Victorian Department of Justice and Community, including around improving the compliance of body worn camera activation and CCTV coverage.

Recruitment and probation processes also need to be reviewed to ensure unsuitable candidates are screened out, Ms Glass said.

"So long as the culture of prisons goes unchanged, unreasonable uses of force and assaults will continue to happen," she said.

The Department of Justice and Community accepted the 12 recommendations either in full or in principle.

"DJCS is committed to continuous improvement in the correctional system and will continue to take action to reduce the risk of inappropriate, corrupt, and unethical behaviour amongst staff, and investigate those who do not meet our high standards," Department Secretary Rebecca Falkingham said in a statement.

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