Allegations of a long-standing culture of misogyny and bullying at Langi Kal Kal Prison in Trawalla and Hopkins Correctional Centre in Ararat by Corrections Victoria officers have been made by former staff, who have spoken exclusively to The Courier.
Female prison staff members, whose ages and experience vary, agreed to speak to this newspaper in the hope their stories will impel change within Corrections Victoria and the Department of Justice, after their careers as officers and employees were destroyed and their mental health damaged in what they say is a brutal, male-dominated and sexist workplace.
They have agreed to put their names to their experiences after saying representations to Corrections Victoria and Department of Justice senior management were repeatedly ignored, or dismissed summarily.
The allegations they make are serious, and go to the core of prison management in Victoria.
The interviews given to The Courier were made over months of investigation.
Details of the cultures at the prisons make for disturbing reading.
They include a culture of cover-up about complaints; nepotism and a 'boys' club' mentality that encourages sexist approaches, commentary and predatory behaviour; inconsistent treatment of female staff by managers; the abuse of alcohol and staff working while affected by alcohol; a lack of proper training in dealing with prisoners; prisoners accessing staff details and developing obsessions with staff, while those staff affected were not informed; the sharing of pornography and staff being targeted with pornographic images; and widespread, persistent sexual harassment of female staff by senior management.
Hannah was aged just 18 and was considered "fair game". Click on the photo below to read Hannah's story.
There is also a perceived disconnect between uniformed staff (prison officers) and other Department of Justice employees.
Prison staff working currently, male and female, some with decades of experience, have also told The Courier of their lack of faith in senior management addressing the issues at the prisons with any real transparency.
The Courier reiterates not all male staff at Langi Kal Kal and Hopkins are involved in harassment, and that many have spoken out against what has taken place. They expressed their frustration at the lack of change and perceived an unwillingness to address the root problems in the system.
One said Corrections Victoria management took the approach of the Catholic Church when confronted with problem officers: 'just move them somewhere else.'
Each of the victims who spoke to The Courier expressed profound disappointment and personal sadness in the loss of their careers.
Renee was the target of a convicted sex offender, a serial rapist. She says she never received any support from her workplace. Click on the photo below to read Renee's story.
They spoke of the reasons why they pursued working within the correctional system, and how they felt they were making a valuable contribution to the rehabilitation of prisoners.
They talked candidly about the emotional damage done to them by the attitudes of fellow staff and the manner in which investigations were undertaken, which they felt were aimed at protecting the reputations of senior staff and departmental management.
The youngest of the staff was just 18 when she began working at the prison; within weeks she says she was being sexually propositioned by older staff. The eldest was in her 50s when she formally complained about threats of physical violence being made against her by another member of staff, after which her career ended.
One had worked in the armed services prior to her employment at Langi Kal Kal; she says nothing she saw in the military prepared her for the conduct of staff towards fellow staff in Corrections Victoria. Another was the subject of obsessional behaviour by a violent sex offender, which she felt was not adequately addressed by her superiors.
Lindy had vast experience in difficult situations, after a 12-year career in the Australian Army. Because she was a confident woman, she says she was brought down. Click on the photo below to read Lindy's story.
In response to questions about the situation at the prisons, Minister for Corrections Ben Carroll issued the following statements.
"Our prison officers do a tough job, they dedicate their lives to keeping our community safe, like every Victorian, they have a right to go to work without fear of bullying or harassment.
"All allegations of workplace bullying or misconduct are thoroughly investigated by the Department of Justice and Community Safety - anyone found to have engaged in misconduct will face disciplinary action."
The statement provided some background regarding issue at the two correctional facilities.
The Department of Justice and Community Safety is actively managing a number of historical - and some recent - staffing matters at Langi Kal Kal Prison and the Hopkins Correctional Centre.
Both of these prisons have a number of safety and staff wellbeing initiatives in place.
Anyone who has experienced bullying or harassment in the workplace can make a confidential report to the Department of Justice and Community Safety.
WorkSafe Victoria also has the power to investigate claims of misconduct, bullying and harassment and prosecute individuals and organisations.
The Courier acknowledges that the majority of staff working in our prisons, male and female, do an outstanding job in some of the most fraught situations imaginable. They are confronted daily with the extremes of human behaviour, and with offenders who have committed atrocious crimes. The staff of our prisons deserve a workplace that supports them fully and makes no allowance for bullying, harassment, or any form of sexual abuse.
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