Victoria Police says only rehabilitating young criminals will make state safer

Police at the Parkville youth detention centre on Monday. Photo: Justin McManus There were riots at the Parkville youth detention centre. Photo: Justin McManus

Amid widespread calls for tougher treatment of violent teenage criminals, Victoria’s deputy police commissioner has warned that only rehabilitating them will make the state safer.

After riots on the weekend and Monday caused widespread damage at the Parkville youth justice centre, the government confirmed on Thursday it would send about 40 young offenders from Parkville and Malmsbury to Barwon Correction Facility within “the next few days”.

The children will be kept in a secure unit within the prison, separate from mainstream prisoners. The prison will operate as a youth remand centre and youth justice custodial centre.

Children’s Minister Jenny Mikakos​ said this would send “a very strong message” to the young people.

“We are sending them to Victoria’s maximum security prison at Barwon prison [and] it is going to be a very strong message to them that the behaviour they engaged in is completely disgraceful,” she said.

However, three separate sources told Fairfax that the move to Barwon was expedient rather than punitive. Sources said the jail was chosen because it had space, and keeping the children there in the short term would allow authorities to conduct repair and fortification works at Parkville.

Earlier, the government had been thwarted by the Youth Parole Board in its attempts to have seven young offenders, identified as “ringleaders”, sent into the adult prison population.

The government would not comment on the Youth Parole Board’s decision on Thursday.

In recent days, Premier Daniel Andrews and his team have talked tough on sending those responsible for the riot to adult jail.

But Deputy Commissioner Andrew Crisp issued a note of caution late on Thursday, saying “it is important we retain perspective”.

“Amidst all this, we need to keep a real eye on the future,” he said.

“Whilst no-nonsense policing and tougher sentencing might provide a greater sense of short-term justice for the community, it does not address the broader, underpinning issues which are driving this increase in offending.

“It is critical we understand that better, so that we can break the cycle of lifetime offending and imprisonment. Every criminal that is rehabilitated is one less person committing robberies, assaults and burglaries on innocent people. This is how we will make our community safe into the future.”

Mr Crisp’s sentiments were echoed by Commissioner for Children and Young People, Liana Buchanan, who visited Parkville on Tuesday, the day after the most recent incident.

She said she understood why the government was sending 40 young people to Barwon prison, so long as it was a temporary measure.

“On balance, I don’t like it [young people being sent to adult prison], but I accept that it’s necessary as a temporary and emergency measure.”

However, she stressed that those involved in the recent unrest were a small group of young people, and said the government’s goal should be rehabilitation.

Ian Lanyon, director of secure services at the Department of Health and Human Services, said a process was under way to identify which young offenders would be sent to Barwon.

“Ringleaders have been identified,” he said. “They may well be [sent to Barwon].”

Shadow corrections minister Edward O’Donohue​ said the crisis should have never got to this point.

“This is a panicked decision from a government that has no idea how to fix the law-and-order crisis confronting Victoria,” he said.

The Community and Public Sector Union, which represents youth justice workers, welcomed the government’s decision. State secretary Karen Batt said the union had concerns for some time about staff safety at Parkville.

“It is a strong response, it is a smart response. It will break the cycle of violence in youth justice,” Ms Batt said.

The government is currently looking at a series of law changes to tackle violent youth offending.

Federal Parliament’s migration committee announced on Thursday it would hold an inquiry into young migrants and youth gang activity.

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