Minister for Families and Children, Jenny Mikakos, praises Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre staff

FACED with danger, Ray Birkin and Graeme Todd did not hesitate to put their bodies on the line.

The Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre staffers were today recognised for their brave efforts to control offenders attempting to escape the facility in January. 

Minister for Youth Affairs and Families and Children, Jenny Mikakos, bestowed the honours.

Graeme Todd and Ray Birkin were at the centre of the attention during Wednesday's presentation. However, all staff were commended for their service. Picture: NONI HYETT.

Graeme Todd and Ray Birkin were at the centre of the attention during Wednesday's presentation. However, all staff were commended for their service. Picture: NONI HYETT.

Courage, loyalty admired

TODAY’S presentation was a moment of pride for staff at the Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre. 

Minister for Youth Affairs and Families and Children, Jenny Mikakos, visited the centre to acknowledge the valour of Ray Birkin and Graeme Todd.

Both men were in acting roles – general manager and supervisor, respectively – when the facility faced a crisis on January 25. 

A group of clients had broken out of one of the buildings inside the precinct, and was attempting to break into another.

Staff at the second building were struggling to contain their clients.

Both Mr Birkin and Mr Todd put their bodies on the line to try to stop about 20 young men exploiting a window, which had been smashed open. 

Their efforts prevented some of the offenders from escaping.

However, 13 fled the facility in a stolen vehicle and led police on a chase through the region.

A further two escaped on foot.

Police search for the young escapees in Harcourt in January. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Police search for the young escapees in Harcourt in January. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

“Despite the stressful circumstances, and the many challenges faced on that day, you both showed great personal commitment to your positions, to the safety of your fellow colleagues, and to our wider community,” Ms Mikakos said. 

“For that, I can only express my gratitude on behalf of the Victorian Government and the community.”

The recognition came on a milestone occasion for Mr Birkin, exactly 20 years after his first day at the centre.

He said the nature of the clients’ offences had significantly changed throughout the course of his career.

In the early years, Mr Birkin said the majority of the young men at the centre were at the lower end of the offending scale.

Only a handful of the clients were in custody for more serious offences.

These days, Mr Birkin said it was rare to find clients with petty crimes. 

“It’s all assault, violence and drug related,” he said.

“When you look at their crimes, you can see anger in there.”

Twenty years ago, members from the broader community would use the sporting facilities at the centre.

But Mr Birkin said incidents at the centre in recent years had made Malmsbury residents fearful, particularly the January escape.

“It had a big impact on this community,” he said.

Mr Todd said he was initially surprised his actions were considered worthy of special recognition.

“We should all get awards every day,” he said.

Minister for Youth Affairs and Families and Children Jenny Mikakos. Picture: NONI HYETT

Minister for Youth Affairs and Families and Children Jenny Mikakos. Picture: NONI HYETT

Malmsbury escape a catalyst for change

A YOUTH justice recruitment campaign has attracted more than 1000 applications.

Minister for Youth Affairs and Families and Children, Jenny Mikakos, cited the figure while commending two Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre staffers on their valour. 

She sought to reassure all those assembled for the presentation that factors contributing to an escape on January 25 were being addressed. 

“I think it’s important that you know and that the wider community knows there have been many changes that have occurred since that time,” Ms Mikakos said. 

Security features had been upgraded at youth justice centres in both Malmsbury and Parkville.

Ms Mikakos said work to ensure both facilities were “fit for purpose” was ongoing. 

Premier Daniel Andrews responds to concerns about Victoria's justice system while in Bendigo. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Premier Daniel Andrews responds to concerns about Victoria's justice system while in Bendigo. Picture: DARREN HOWE

New offences were introduced for assaulting youth justice staff. Additional sentences were among the “raft of changes” included in that legislative package.

“There are now security and emergency services group staff based at youth justice centres in Victoria to help manage and respond to dangerous or violent incidents,” Ms Mikakos said. 

Twenty-one additional Safety and Emergency Response Team positions were announced in response to an independent review of the youth justice system, released in August. 

The state government is running a recruitment campaign for youth justice workers, and providing additional training for those already working in the system.

Ms Mikakos envisaged the training would help staff “prevent and respond to violent and antisocial incidents inside our youth justice centres”.

“It is challenging work but I believe it is also rewarding work,” she said.