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Report reveals use of spit hood on Indigenous child in Victorian adult prison

Dechlan Brennan -

A Victorian Indigenous teenager has been subjected to wearing a spit hood in an adult prison, renewing calls for them to be banned.

A report tabled last week in the state's parliament by Victoria's Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) highlighted an incident in February this year, where a child under the age of 18 in adult custody contacted the Commission, reporting that prison officers earlier that day had placed a spit hood on him.

When National Indigenous Times spoke to Victoria's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Liana Buchanan, about the tabled report, she declined to confirm if the child was Aboriginal, citing confidentiality. Nonetheless, she did note that the incident was "shocking."

However, Guardian Australia has revealed on Thursday that the boy, who passed the age of 18 whilst in solitary confinement, is Aboriginal.

The article said the child - who used the pseudonym DJ - felt the correctional staff were "abusing" him.

"It's a breach of my human rights. They treat human rights like they're some bendable rule," they reported he said.

Speaking to Guardian Australia last week, commissioner Buchanan said that despite Victorian's believing they often avoid the worst abuses of children in custody, "this case unfortunately showed me that is not true".

After being contacted by the child, the Commission established an individual inquiry to examine the spit hoods application, as well as the care of the child in the lead-up to the application, and if there is any need for improvements to the "management, care and custody" of youths in adult prisons.

The National Ban Spit Hoods Coalition says spit hoods are a "mesh fabric device that conceals the head of a restrained person".

"Even when they don't kill, spit hoods pose a grave threat to wellbeing and dignity."

The say the use of spit hoods have been reported to violate the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention Against Torture, both of which Australia are signatories to.

The Commission noted they'd repeatedly advised the government spit hoods should not be used on children. In Victoria, youth justice custodial settings do not have, or use, spit hoods.

The report said at the time of the incident, the Corrections Regulations 2019 allowed a spit hood to be used on a prisoner under the age of 18. However, it required consideration of their vulnerability, age and best interests.

The CCYP inquiry found Corrections Victoria had not updated their procedures regarding the circumstances in which a spit hood could be applied to a child, to reflect the amendments to Corrections Regulations 2019.

The inquiry also found a range of "significant concerns" about the child's treatment in the adult facility.

In the lead up to the application of the spit hood, the child had spent eight months in adult custody. They had experienced an unsettled time, with some incidents displaying "threatening and dangerous behaviour."

He had been kept in "effective isolation for a total of 24 weeks out of eight months," and the spit hood incident was applied "despite him not having been involved in spitting incidents and without consideration of the requirements of the Corrections Regulations".

"During this (eight month) period, he had little contact with other prisoners, was confined to his cell for 22 or 23 hours per day, and had no access to education and limited access to programs.

"For a further four weeks, the young person was regularly placed on an individual plan to manage his behaviour, spending 22 or 23 hours per day in his cell," the report said.

The day before the spit hood was applied, they were involved in a series of incidents and were moved to another cell by staff through "authorised use of force".

The child reported the water in his cell had been turned off for a total of 22 hours after he was involved in an incident, meaning, despite repeated requests for it to be turned back on, he was unable to use the toilet facilities or wash his hands.

The inquiry found a range of factors that could have contributed to the incidents leading up to the application of the spit hood, including a recent change in the child's medication that the staff at the adult facility who responded to him were unaware of.

The Commission said they welcomed advice from Corrections Victoria that the policy would be amended to prohibit the application of spit hoods on children.

After the incident, Corrections Victoria prohibited the use of spit hoods for any prisoner under the age of 18 - regardless of the facility they are housed in.

A Victorian government spokesperson told National Indigenous Times the "safety and wellbeing of staff and people in custody is the highest priority."

"Frontline workers are supported with training on tactical options and de-escalation techniques to manage difficult situations," they said in a statement.

"Corrections Victoria regularly reviews all its policies and protective measures to ensure they represent best practice."

The use of spit hoods was put into the spotlight when ABC's Four Corners Programme ran a 2016 expose which featured footage of a retained child in a chair with a spit hood on in the Northern Territory.

The 2017 Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory - sparked by the ABC report - found spit hoods on children had the potential to "cause distress," particularly when combined with other forms of restraint, and that their use should be prohibited.

South Australia legislated the ban of spit hoods in 2021 and the federal police banned the operational use of them this year. Calls from multiple groups to ban them have occurred since 2017.

Earlier this year, The Northern Territory ombudsman recommended the state government formally ban spit hoods, whilst last year Queensland Police Service announced spit hoods would no longer be used in police watch houses, but this ban would not extend to prisons.

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