Malmsbury and Parkville juvenile detention centres run up $10 million compo bill for stress and injury

Youths protesting on the roof of the Parkville youth justice centre in March. Picture: JESSE MARLOW
Youths protesting on the roof of the Parkville youth justice centre in March. Picture: JESSE MARLOW

Taxpayers have spent almost $10 million in six years to compensate youth justice staff for violence and stress endured while working at Victoria's two main juvenile detention centres.

Weeks after teen inmates embarked on yet another riot, new data reveals that since 2010 about 384 WorkSafe claims have been paid out to traumatised staff at the Parkville and Malmsbury youth justice facilities, costing at least $9.58 million.

The figures again put into focus the kind of difficulties faced by workers, with Fairfax Media aware of several cases in which employees have been king-hit, hospitalised, spat on, or threatened with rape – the kind of incidents the union says happen all too regularly in the juvenile justice system.

"It is a very stressful job and there does need to be an understanding in the community that just because the police arrest them, and the courts put them away, it doesn't mean the community can look away from what goes on behind the walls," said Community and Public Sector union boss Karen Batt.

The cost of compensation emerged as the first batch of Parkville rioters were sent to Barwon Prison this week, with the youth offenders kept in a segregated section of the adult jail while the damage is repaired at the juvenile detention facility.

But with law and order a major pressure point for Daniel Andrews, the government is also quietly reviewing the entire youth justice system – including the so-called "therapeutic model" that focuses heavily on the rehabilitation of youths and diversionary programs, rather than hard line punishment.

The review – led by former corrections commissioner Penny Armytage and Swinburne University's James Ogloff – is the first examination of the state's youth justice framework in 16 years.

But taken against the backdrop of carjackings, home invasions and Apex gang thuggery, insiders believe it will inevitably lead to a much a tougher approach towards youth offenders once it is completed by mid-2017 – about 18 months before the next state election.

"The review will assess whether the current model is best positioned to respond to the needs of children, young people and their families to address and reduce the risk of offending into the future," the terms of reference says.

In other developments this week:

  • Youth crime dominated state parliament, with the Premier standing by Youth Affairs Minister Jenny Mikakos despite the Coalition repeatedly calling for her sacking.
  • The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service filed a case in the Supreme Court – due to be heard next week – challenging the lawfulness of the government's decision to send Aboriginal children to Barwon Prison.
  • Details continued to emerge about the Parkville riot, including revelations that inmates tried to set a unit on fire, charged at prison guards with metal poles and a fire extinguisher, and took at least one person hostage during the 18-hour standoff.

The latest riots were one of at least a dozen that have taken place in the juvenile justice system since last October. However, as revealed by Fairfax Media, successive governments have known for years about the inadequacy of Parkville as a youth facility, with a 2010 Ombudsman's report finding it so unsuitable "that the only practical way to address the conditions at the precinct in the long-term is to develop a new facility at another site."

The government has admitted it will cost about $10 million to fortify the centre.