A recent report found Victoria’s prison system is rife with bullying, harassment, sexism and racism – creating an unsafe workplace for staff and impacting on the ability for prisoners to turn their lives around. Victoria must look at international best practice and ensure its staff are equipped and supported to perform challenging work.
A recent report on the culture of adult prisons across Victoria – the Cultural Review of the Adult Custodial Corrections System – found that bullying, harassment, sexism and racism are rife, both amongst prison staff and directed towards inmates.
Prison staff told the Cultural Review that workplace bullying and harassment had caused many of them to leave their jobs or consider leaving, develop substance abuse issues, and suicidal ideation. A toxic culture among staff leads to an unsafe environment for inmates, who say that they avoid speaking up about mistreatment for fear it might affect their placement, safety or parole.
As an example, one staff member told the Review, “we’ve got one prisoner who actually reported one of the officers because she did something inappropriate, and now nobody does anything for him. And if I do, then I’m a crook lover.”
The Review described a system in transition – with tension between an older operational model focused on security and a newer system that is more therapeutic and rehabilitative. It notes that there is a growing understanding that punitive custodial conditions do not keep prison staff or community members safer.
Another staff member commented, “the inability to self-reflect and fend off the influences of disgruntled, jaded, and bitter staff swiftly muddles the morals of new recruits who subsequently lean into the culture of punishing prisoners, as opposed to acting with the professionalism that our role demands.”
The Review also found that Victoria’s prisons are particularly unsafe for Aboriginal people. At the time the report was written, a coronial inquest was taking place into the death of Veronica Nelson, an Aboriginal woman who died in custody on remand, which led to urgent calls for bail reform. Over the course of the Cultural Review, there have been two further deaths of Aboriginal people in custody.