Allegations of a long-standing culture of misogyny and bullying at prisons near Ballarat by Corrections Victoria officers have been made by former staff, who have spoken exclusively to The Courier.
These are their stories.
Hannah O'Brien's story is in two parts. PART ONE:
Hannah O'Brien was 18 when she took on the role of a justice officer (JO) at Langi Kal Kal. The role, known inside the prison system as a 'joey', was offered as a casual position; from the outset O'Brien was expected to work full-time.
"I was told they were understaffed, so I would be working full-time but still be paid casually," she says.
"I would not be getting any annual leave or anything like that."
In an administrative role at the Langi Kal Kal prison reception, O'Brien was expected to answer phones and address the needs and requirements of visitors to the prison, such as confiscating telephones before allowing entry. Her training was conducted by another officer who worked in a separate area, and O'Brien describes the experience as 'sink or swim'.
"It was basically, 'Here's what you have to do - do it,'" she says.
"(It was) understaffed, there was no structure around work hours; I knew I started at 9am, but I was never told that if I didn't finish a job, I could just go home and finish it tomorrow.
"There were grey areas; the prison had expanded to, I think 450 beds; I don't think anyone realised how busy it became with contractors coming in and out and just staff, new staff. There was a new squad of prison officers coming through every couple of months. It was very hectic."
They had been making advances; making it very obvious that they were wanting us to go home with themHannah O'Brien
Despite the stressful work, which O'Brien raised with her managers, the new employee enjoyed her job and felt competent.
"I could have done it with my eyes closed," she says.
One of a team of justice officers fulfilling different portfolios at the prison such as offender management, industries and prisoner intelligence, O'Brien worked with prisoners for months before receiving a three-day induction about what she needed to be aware of.
It comprised such information as where duress buttons were, how a muster worked and what fire extinguishers to use in an emergency - things she says were basic knowledge and she had been applying already.
Around seven months into her employment at Langi Kal Kal, in December 2014, O'Brien says things started to go wrong.
The prison's social club organised Christmas drinks in Ballarat, an event that ran into the early morning, across a number of venues. The night finished in Lydiard Street, where O'Brien and other female justice officers joined the queue at a taxi rank.
They were approached, O'Brien says, by two men in more senior positions from Langi Kal Kal, who made their intentions clear to the justice officers.
"They had been making advances; making it very obvious that they were wanting us to go home with them," O'Brien says.
"Grabbing me around the waist; saying things like, 'If I was your age I would f**k you,' and things like that. It had been mentioned throughout the night and started to progress to touching us. It was pretty evident we had to leave."
The pair of male staff were affected by alcohol, says O'Brien, and while at the rank attempted to organise for the four of them to go onto one of their homes.
They forced their way into the taxi queue behind O'Brien and her female colleagues, and began to harass them again, escalating to the point where O'Brien's female friend was threatened with a punch to the face if they did not acquiesce to the men's demands.
"We had progressed down the line a bit by that stage, so we just linked arms and jumped into a taxi," O'Brien says.
Following the incident, O'Brien received Facebook messages asking 'if we are cool' from one of the men, despite not being friends on the platform.
'Remembered a few things from fri, was a bit full on with you,' 'can it stay between us', read others.
An email sent by the man alluded to the 'messy' nature of the evening. O'Brien says she returned to work feeling uncomfortable, and naively tried to 'band-aid' what had happened.
She failed to report the incident until the end of February 2015, saying she feared her junior status would count against her. The man, she says kept creating situations where their paths would cross, making odd and silly comments to her, often in front of staff.
At a second social function in Ballarat, a staff farewell, in February 2015, the same man approached O'Brien. She had been reluctant to attend the function, she says, and did so only at her then-partner's suggestion, saying she deserved the relaxation.
O'Brien says she went to the farewell determined to stay clear of the officer and to remain sober. Her uncle was in attendance, giving her a sense of security, she says.
It was ill-founded.
I realised it was not going to stop until I said somethingHannah O'Brien
Once again, the man found an opportunity to approach O'Brien, complaining about the difficulties she and her partner would have in a relationship together and that 'her boyfriend couldn't give her the happiness she needed; he could.'
"He was extremely intoxicated," says O'Brien, and was observed rubbing the backs of female staff and putting his arms around others.
She was removed from the situation by staff, who took her outside if the hotel where the function was taking place, and her partner came to take her home.
"After this incident, I realised it was not going to stop until I said something," O'Brien says. She sought support from fellow female staff members, including some who had experienced the same treatment from the man.
Four of the staff reported the man's behaviour. O'Brien says there was no response from management; they were simply told not to discuss what had happened with anyone.
At a later investigation conducted by the Department of Justice's People and Culture division, O'Brien was met with counter-accusations stating she was drunk and had made advances to the man at the functions.
She was told she would not be informed of the outcome, due to confidentiality restrictions.
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.
TOMORROW: PART TWO OF HANNAH'S STORY
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