Gang of guards accused of jail violence

Prison Report – Ombudsman critical of custody centre
A GROUP of aggressive guards known as “The Family” dominates the Melbourne Custody Centre and often uses excessive force against prisoners, an investigation by the State Ombudsman has been told.
In a damning report tabled in Parliament yesterday, Ombudsman George Brouwer concluded that guards had seriously mistreated a remand prisoner being strip-searched on June 13.
CCTV footage released yesterday shows the prisoner being grabbed by the throat and pushed to the ground, with several guards then piling on top of him. He received a cut to the head.
Following a complaint from the prisoner, Mr Brouwer summonsed guards from the centre, an underground facility in Lonsdale Street below the Melbourne Magistrates Court.
Mr Brouwer wrote: “It is of concern that witnesses spoke of a culture that involves staff favouritism; the centre being dominated by a few staff; tolerance of abuse of prisoners; and an environment where speaking out means job loss.”
The report quotes guards claiming that a clique nicknamed “The Family” instigated violence with prisoners and struck prisoners unnecessarily.
“They thrive on aggression,” one guard reported.
Another claimed that prisoners were “badgered” verbally by guards with “degrading” remarks such as: “‘You’re a f—ing scumbucket. You deserve to be in here.”
Mr Brouwer concluded that some of the staff had inappropriate attitudes, lacked proper training and failed to follow procedure.
The centre is supervised by Victoria Police but is privately run by the GEO Group Australia, part of an $830 million international company with 59,000 beds in 68 jails and psychiatric hospitals in countries including the US, Canada and South Africa.
The GEO Group runs four correctional facilities in Australia, including Fulham prison in Sale. Managing director Pieter Bezuidenhout said yesterday that the company disagreed with the Ombudsman’s report. He said CCTV images showed the prisoner being aggressive towards a guard before he was restrained.
The officers involved would face disciplinary action where necessary, he said.
“GEO has a policy of zero tolerance for any failure to treat any person in custody appropriately.”
Victoria Police said it was investigating an alleged assault at the custody centre.
Mr Brouwer wrote that oversight of the centre by GEO and Victoria Police was inadequate.
The person in charge of reviewing incidents was three months behind in his viewing of CCTV footage, Mr Brouwer wrote.
He recommended that:
* GEO comprehensively review the centre and the suitability of the officers involved in the June incident.
* Prisoners be allowed access to phones.
* Victoria Police review its supervision.
* The centre, which lacks fresh air and daylight, should only be used to hold prisoners for short stays (some prisoners are held for up to 28 days).
A spokeswoman for Victoria Police said the centre’s operations would be reviewed but it was impractical to limit it to being a daytime holding facility.
Installing a phone system for prisoners would be almost impossible but the problem would be examined further.
Deputy Ombudsman John Taylor told The Age that some previous complaints of violence at the centre could not be investigated properly because CCTV footage had not been available due to “alleged system failure”.
First published in The Age.