Adjournment: Dame Phyllis Frost Centre | Sue Pennicuik

Adjournment: Dame Phyllis Frost Centre

My adjournment matter this afternoon is for the Minister for Corrections. It follows from the report of the Victorian Ombudsman released last month, Implementing OPCAT in Victoria: Report and Inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. My adjournment matter relates to the report on the inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre.
Friday, December 15, 2017 - 8:15am
Speaker:
Sue Pennicuik

Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — My adjournment matter this afternoon is for the Minister for Corrections. It follows from the report of the Victorian Ombudsman released last month, Implementing OPCAT in Victoria: Report and Inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. My adjournment matter relates to the report on the inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. The Ombudsman made 18 recommendations following that inspection, and all have been accepted, except recommendation 5, which refers to strip searching. The recommendation was that the general manager of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre:

immediately cease the practice (by whatever name) of strip searching all women before and after contact visits and following external appointments

replace it with a charter-compliant practice of strip searching based on intelligence and risk assessment.

A strip search according to Corrections Regulations 2009 is:

a search of a person that requires—

(a)    the person to remove any or all of the person's clothing; and

(b)   an examination of the person's body and of that clothing—

but does not require the person to be touched by the person or persons conducting the search.

The Ombudsman says:

The Nelson Mandela Rules provide that strip searches should be conducted only when 'absolutely necessary' and prison administrations should be encouraged to develop and use appropriate alternatives.

This is reinforced by the Corrections Regulations, which require there to be 'reasonable grounds' for believing that a strip search is necessary for the security and good order of the prison.

In practice, though, at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre women are routinely strip searched when they first arrive at the prison, during the reception process and after all contact visits other than professional visits. They are also required to remove all their clothes in front of officers before all contact visits, other than professional visits. Staff also advised the Ombudsman's inspection team that women are strip searched before and after all external appointments, even if they have not left the sight of the staff. The prison's operating procedure says that:

… strip searches before personal visits can only be targeted, but allows for all women to be strip searched after personal visits.

The Ombudsman says:

Whatever terminology the prison uses to describe the pre-visit procedure, the practice observed by the inspection was consistent with the definition of a strip search within the Corrections Regulations.

And:

A strip search practice that is not evidence-based is inconsistent with the Corrections Regulations.

My request is that the minister investigate alternative technologies that would reduce the need for the strip searches as outlined by the Ombudsman's report.

REPLY on 6 February 2018:

The use of drugs in prisons presents a real risk to the safety of prisoners and staff as well as the good order and security of the facilities. Strip searching, or searching of a prisoner's body, is one of the necessary and legitimate measures undertaken to control the introduction of drugs into prisons.

However, Corrections Victoria acknowledges that strip searching is an intrusive practice, particularly for women prisoners whose population consists of a high proportion of sexual abuse and family violence victims.

In terms of your request for investigation into alternative technologies, this is already occurring.

Recommendation 6: Detecting Contraband of the Ombudsman's Report states:

The Department of Justice and Regulation strengthen alternative ways to detect contraband, including reviewing the resources of the Prison Intelligence Unit.

This recommendation has been accepted by the Department which noted that it is already underway. The Department's response states:

The Department is actively pursuing appropriate technology to detect contraband in a manner that balances respect and dignity.

I look forward to the Department pursuing this recommendation and reporting their findings to me.