Australia indigenous advocates call for youth prison reform amid allegations of abuse News
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Australia indigenous advocates call for youth prison reform amid allegations of abuse

A group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advocates and NGOS expressed deep concerns Friday about the mistreatment of children in youth prisons in an open letter to the Victorian government.

The advocates called out the Victorian Government’s failure to meet Australia’s obligations to implement safeguards expressed in the UN’s the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) adopted by Australia in 2017, stating “Victoria has now missed multiple deadlines for implementation of the bare minimum safeguards to protect against mistreatment in prisons.” State Parties to the OPCAT are obliged to “take effective measures to prevent acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in any territory under its jurisdiction” through the establishment of “one or several independent national preventative mechanisms for the prevention of torture at the domestic level.”

The letter pointed out that Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland are the only states in Australia left to implement the safeguards, with reports of alleged abuse of young people occurring in prison in each state. Some of these incidents of mistreatment of youth have allegedly involved solitary confinement, unnecessary or excessive use of force, the use of dogs and partially clothed searches. There have also been reports of incidents involving spit hooding, a dangerous and potentially fatal practice.

The letter comes as calls for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised from 10 to 14 have increased. Pressure is also mounting for this change to align with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to Raise the Age, indigenous youth account for 65 percent of younger children (aged 0 to 13 years old) in youth prisons, despite the indigenous population of Australia only accounting for 3.8 percent of the population.