People in custody and their families

People in custody have the right to feel safe and be treated fairly. Prisons and correctional centres must make sure they respect peoples’ human rights including their right to humane treatment when deprived of their liberty. As prisons are closed environments, often out of sight, it is even more important that people in custody can voice their concerns and that there is a high level of transparency and oversight.

Everyone deserves to be treated fairly and with respect in custody and be supported to rehabilitate.

Victoria’s human rights law requires public authorities, including the Department of Justice and Community Safety, which operates prisons in Victoria, to act compatibly with relevant human rights.

Some of the important rights that apply to people in custody include:

  • the right not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way
  • the right be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person
  • the right to enjoy their human rights without discrimination, including Aboriginal cultural rights.

This means prisons and correctional centres must uphold your rights, even when you are in custody.

Recent investigations into Victoria’s prisons and correctional centres have found that people’s rights are not always protected when they are in custody. Sometimes people are treated unfairly or abused. Sometimes people are strip-searched, subjected to solitary confinement or subject to excessive use of force when they shouldn’t be. Sometimes disciplinary decisions are not fair and transparent. Some groups of people, including women, Aboriginal people, gay, lesbian and transgender people, and people with disabilities, may be treated unfairly because of who they are.

The Cultural Review of the Adult Custodial Corrections System is an important opportunity to help create a safer and more humane corrections system – one that upholds the rights of every person in custody, that promotes rehabilitation, and that provides support for the needs of each individual.

The Review will look at these issues. It aims to make sure people in custody:

  • are not treated unfairly, bullied or abused
  • are treated with respect and dignity
  • can access programs that help them connect with their culture
  • receive psychological and health support if they need it
  • can make a complaint if they are treated unfairly
  • are treated fairly in any disciplinary processes.

Ensuring safe and humane prisons and correctional centres

The terms of reference direct the Review to look at two key themes in how people are treated in Victorian prisons and correctional centres:

  • How culturally safe Aboriginal people are when they are in custody
    Connections to culture and family can help Aboriginal people feel safe and supported, even when they are in custody. Prisons and correctional centres should find ways to support Aboriginal people to stay connected to their culture when they are in custody and to be free from racism, unfair treatment, sexual harassment, bullying or abuse. Aboriginal communities should be able to make decisions about how Aboriginal people are treated if they are in custody.
  • How people are treated in custody
    All people should be treated fairly and be safe while in custody. Some people in custody are at risk of being treated unfairly because of who they are – for example, women, LGBTIQ people, people with disabilities, older people, and people who speak languages other than English or who come from different cultural backgrounds. Prisons and correctional centres should have systems and processes in place to make sure all people are safe while they are in custody.

Aboriginal people in custody

The experiences of Aboriginal people in custody will be a central part of the Review. Aboriginal people are over-represented in the prison population for a complex range of reasons, including systemic discrimination and trauma across generations due to the continuous impacts of colonisation. Since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its report 30 years ago, more than 25 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have lost their lives in custody in Victoria.

Ensuring prisons and correctional centres are culturally safe helps support Aboriginal people’s wellbeing and rehabilitation. The Review will speak with Aboriginal community members and organisations, and people who have lived experience of custody to make recommendations to improve the experiences of Aboriginal people in custody including by addressing racism and finding ways to stay connected to culture and family.

Find out more about how the Review will support Aboriginal cultural safety

There are some things we can’t look at

While the Review will look at a wide range of issues, there are some areas that are outside the scope of the Review:

  • the experience of people held in custody in police cells
  • the behaviour of police custody officers
  • Victoria’s community corrections system
  • specific COVID-19 custodial arrangements
  • legislation outside the portfolio of the Minister for Corrections.

We want to hear about your individual experiences to inform the Review, but we cannot investigate or resolve individual incidents or complaints of misconduct. If you wish to make a formal complaint or seek help, we can provide you with more information or help you with a referral. You can view our Help and support page for more options.