Closed environments

The rights of people in closed environments are protected by law

We all have a right to be protected when in care or detention and to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. 

People living in detention – or care settings where their liberty is restricted – have limited control over their lives and choices and are more vulnerable to having their human rights abused or denied. 

In certain closed environments, we see systemic inequality in the overrepresentation of particular groups, for example Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home-care and youth custody. People in closed environments may be unaware of their rights – by reason of the nature of the setting, their age, disability or background – or lack the support and resources needed to assert them. 

Some people in closed environments in Victoria experience breaches of their human rights. These breaches can have extremely damaging and lasting effects not only on individuals but also on their family and friends. For example, people in closed environments may experience: 

  • use of excessive force

  • inappropriate use of restraint 

  • denial of cultural rights

  • disrespect for privacy and dignity in daily activities 

  • separation from family

  • lack of access to news and connection with the community.

By way of example, in the 2017 decision of Certain Children [No 2],  the Supreme Court stated that detaining children in an adult maximum security prison had a ‘demoralising and dehumanising’ effect: 

Put simply, combined effects of the extensive use of isolation, the handcuffing, the requirement to take children through the adult prison to get outdoors, the physical high security prison environment, its lack of natural light and fresh air, the noise, the visible presence of prison officers, the lack of privacy, education, stimulation, time out of doors, confined outdoor space, in combination with the youth of the detainees, meant that their detention … has limited their Charter rights [at 424].

How the Commission can protect rights in closed environments

The Commission is committed to protecting human rights in closed environments. 

The Commission operates under three laws:

The Commission provides information about how these laws operate. We educate organisations and the community about their rights and responsibilities under these laws. In our education programs we aim to disrupt assumptions and challenge participants using realistic scenarios, current cases and best practice examples. We tailor workplace programs that offer public service employees an opportunity to deepen their understanding of how these laws apply in their work. 

Under the Equal Opportunity Act and the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, the Commission helps people to resolve their complaints about discrimination, sexual harassment, victimisation and racial and religious vilification. See the menu to your left for more information on what the Commission does and how we can help.

The Commission’s 2017–22 Strategic Plan, Upholding human rights close to home, will guide the Commission’s work for the next five years to achieve our vision for a fair, safe and inclusive Victoria where everyone is respected and treated with dignity.

One of the Commission’s four strategic priorities is to protect human rights in closed environments. Under this priority, the Commission will:

  • raise awareness of the importance of human rights in closed environments and how individuals can assert their rights
  • identify and address the systems, structures and practices that result in unfair treatment, abuse or neglect in particular closed environments
  • assist in the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its standards for monitoring places of detention.

The five year outcomes we seek are that:

  • law and policy that regulates closed environments is better informed by human rights principles
  • vulnerable individuals have greater awareness of rights in closed environments and are better able to take action
  • institutions understand the benefits of human rights and are more committed to ensuring that the rights of people in their care are protected.

OPCAT

The Commission welcomes the Australian Government’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in December 2017. Ratification of this treaty presents an opportunity for us to significantly improve human rights protection of people in detention. The Commission is committed to the effective implementation of OPCAT in Victoria.

Read more about OPCAT and the Commission’s involvement 

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