Implementing OPCAT in Victoria: report and inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre

Prisons Prisoners Prison administration Human rights Women prisoners Victoria
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This report considers the practical implications of implementing the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in Victoria. It sets out:

• practical changes needed to implement the OPCAT protocol

• the results of a pilot OPCAT-style inspection at Victoria’s main women’s prison, the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre (DPFC).

OPCAT is an international human rights treaty that aims to prevent abuse of people in detention by opening places where people are deprived of liberty – prisons, police cells, psychiatric hospitals and so on – to regular independent inspections by:

• a United Nations (UN) committee of international experts

• local inspection bodies called National Preventative Mechanisms (NPMs).

In February 2017, the Commonwealth Government announced that Australia will ratify OPCAT by the end of 2017.

In Victoria, this means the Victorian Government will need to open places of detention to the UN committee from 2018. The Victorian Government will have three years to ‘designate’ or appoint one or more local NPMs to conduct regular inspections.

Implementing OPCAT will require changes. While Victoria already has human rights laws and monitoring bodies, OPCAT will introduce more rigorous standards for inspecting places of detention.

On 31 March 2017, the Ombudsman notified the Attorney-General, the Minister for Corrections and the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Regulation of her intention to conduct an ‘own motion’ investigation into the conditions in a custodial facility, with a view to contributing to the debate about OPCAT’s implementation in Victoria.

The investigation mapped places of detention in Victoria, how they are monitored, and what needs to change to implement OPCAT.

The investigation also tested how OPCAT inspections work in practice by conducting a pilot inspection at DPFC using OPCAT standards where possible.

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