Attacks on Malmsbury justice centre workers are becoming frequent. Picture: Rob Leeson.
Attacks on Malmsbury justice centre workers are becoming frequent. Picture: Rob Leeson.

Youth prison lockdown to continue after staff walk out

The troubled Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre will likely remain in lockdown for days as staff refuse to return to work following a spate of violent attacks by inmates.

Movements throughout the facility are being restricted, with escorts accompanying staff as they carry out essential duties after two officers were bashed with a plastic cricket bat on Thursday.

Yesterday crisis meetings involving management, the union and WorkSafe took place to resolve the problem.

However no agreement was reached and the next discussion will take place on Monday.

It is likely inmates will remain in their cells, with limited movement, until at least then.

Community and Public Sector Union spokeswoman Julian Kennelly said a pool of justice and security staff could be called in to take over everyday functions at the prison.

"At the moment, it is not running as normal. None of the units are opened," he said.

High absenteeism rates are one of the biggest issues faced by youth justice staff, he said.

This is partly due to staff on leave due to assaults.

Mr Kennelly said a solution must be met fast to avoid a "complete free for all".

"Staff have been going without (the required numbers) and it leaves them exposed. When a young offender sees that staff are exposed, they can take advantage," he said.

"Agency staff are used to replace them and once they witness and assault or violence they are less likely to come back to work."

The two officers bashed at the facility on Thursday have been discharged from hospital.

The justice department has been contacted for comment over the ongoing lockdown.

Staff walked out over a recent spate of attacks from inmates, one as recent as last night. Picture: Rob Leeson
Staff walked out over a recent spate of attacks from inmates, one as recent as last night. Picture: Rob Leeson

The Herald Sun yesterday revealed that more than 60 staff assaulted in Victoria's two youth jails have been left too traumatised and hurt to work, as the juvenile justice system plunges deeper into crisis.

More than 25 Malmsbury staff and at least another 35 from Parkville are signed off on WorkCover after a spate of ­attacks by violent inmates.

Three youths have been charged over the alleged plastic cricket bat attack on Thursday night, in which one victim was struck 19 times. The trio, aged 18 and 19, have been transferred to an adult jail.

On a year-round basis, the WorkCover payouts would be up to $4 million for staff unable to perform their duties.

That expense is compounded by a number of settlements for officers unable to work again, some of which have ­extended into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Many of those staff have been victims of violence.

Staff fear someone will be killed or seriously maimed ­unless a solution is found to what has been a sustained ­period of serious assaults.

One recent victim has ­suffered partial loss of his eyesight after being bashed.

The Herald Sun revealed in 2016 that a WorkSafe report on Malmsbury had found staff believed it to be more dangerous than an adult jail.

Workers say nothing has improved since then and that the jail is, if anything, more violent. In an alarming catalogue of incidents in recent weeks:

A SAFETY and Emergency Response Team officer was stabbed in the neck with a sharpened piece of wood, and another bashed;

AN acting supervisor with just weeks of experience in youth justice suffered facial injuries at Parkville;

AN inmate responsible for more than a dozen assaults on staff fractured a worker's cheekbone at Malmsbury;

TWO staff were hurt while restraining a Malmsbury inmate, and two more workers assaulted in a separate incident.

There is concern at an ­apparent reluctance to send the worst of the ­young attackers to adult prisons.

Youth Justice Minister Ben Carroll described Thursday night's incident as appalling.

"The safety of our hardworking and dedicated staff is paramount and violent behaviour and assaults at youth justice centres won't be tolerated," Mr Carroll said.

New laws were strengthening the consequences for offenders, he said.

Community and Public Sector Union spokeswoman Julie McKeown said staff joined youth justice because they wanted to make a difference in young lives.

"They are repaid by being assaulted, spat on and threatened almost daily," she said.

"The current number of injured staff, some with ­additional psychological ­damage, is astonishing, unsustainable and unacceptable."

 

Staff are frustrated with the ongoing threat of violence while on the job. Picture: Rob Leeson.
Staff are frustrated with the ongoing threat of violence while on the job. Picture: Rob Leeson.

 

OFFICERS ON THEIR GUARD AS PRISONERS RUN AMOK

From the outside, Malmsbury youth justice centre appeared to be business as usual on Friday, but on the inside lengthy crisis meetings between management and staff had forced the troubled facility into lockdown.

Prison staff are understood to be at breaking point with management and are terrified of being assaulted by young thugs who don't care about the consequences - more often than not a slap on the wrist, they say.

The troublemakers are understood to be a core group of about 10 per cent of the prison population.

Prison guard of two decades Shane Feely retired from Malmsbury in 2017 but spoke on behalf of many of his colleagues still employed at the centre who feared losing their jobs by speaking out.

Police leave the Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre. Picture: Rob Leeson
Police leave the Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre. Picture: Rob Leeson

"The management talk the talk but don't walk the walk," he said. "There's no consequences whatsoever.

"Staff-wise, there's a lot on WorkCover who don't want to go back to work, they're frightened.

"I've seen hundreds come and go over the years. You could fill a small country."

Another prison source told the Herald Sun he knew of a colleague who had been attacked while on the job.

"A client came up behind him and gave him one big punch, he didn't see it coming.

"It was unprovoked. A lot of it is.

"He walked away with a fractured eye socket and was hospitalised straight away.

"He had weeks off work.

"If this was any other workplace you'd be closed down, simple as that; things have got to change."

Prisoners were often bribed with confectionery.

"At the end of the day everyone gets a can of Coke, a packet of chips and a block of chocolate," the source said. "It's ridiculous."

RELATED

WORKER STABBED IN MALMSBURY YOUTH PRISON ATTACK

WORKER ASSAULTED IN YOUTH PRISON ATTACK

Former Malmsbury prison officer Ken Rose said the system was "out of control".

"It makes me feel terrible.

"There is a lot who are frightened to go back to work.

"They're advertising for staff all the time.

"I feel sorry for the staff. The management don't care about the staff.

"Until someone gets killed, nothing will be done.

"The prisoners are living a very comfortable life out there with their warm beds, television, three meals a day - they are given too many privileges."

Mr Rose said many of the current staff were afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs.

"If you assault an officer, you should be sent to an adult prison no matter what," he said. "If the youths were sent to adult prison, the rest of the kids would go into panic mode, it would act as a deterrent."

brianna.travers@news.com.au



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