By Mikaela Turner
Each morning when Bryce Marshall went to work at Parkville Youth Justice Precinct, he knew his life was on the line.
The former prison guard says he has seen staff get their heads stomped on, eyes gouged and throats slit with a milo can.
He attributes this violence to an influx of less experienced casual employees, after upper management cut overtime costs.
“When I first started I would look around in the morning and know we had a strong, confident team. A few years later I would look around and know we were in trouble.”
Once this confidence was lost, the job began to feel increasingly dangerous.
“You need to know that if a kid is going to try to stomp on your head, another staff member is going to try to save your life,” Mr Marshall said.
This concern was raised in Parliament in March when Liberal MP Georgie Crozier questioned the Minister of Youth Affairs, Jenny Mikakos’ ability to guarantee staff safety in these centres.
Mr Marshall likens the way in which inmates see casual staff to how students see substitute teachers in high school. The lack of respect heightens the risk.
“I slowly watched it deteriorate, by the end there would be casuals supervising a shift. The whole centre was behind the eight ball.”
Twenty one year-old Keegan Danielz knows what it’s like to be behind bars.
The kitchen hand spent 10 months in Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre which he claims is run by an islander gang of inmates.
The gang would tell others to “give us all your money, you have to pay us rent,” Mr Danielz said.
When asked if the guards responded to this, Mr Danielz said “what could they do?”.
As with Parkville, Mr Danielz said many of the staff at the Malmsbury centre were young casuals.
Infrastructure is also a major safety and security concern within Victoria’s Youth Justice centres.
At Parkville Youth Justice Precinct, Mr Marshall claimed the ceilings were a huge weak point.
“The kids at night would start breaking through the roof and once they were in the roof they could start breaking other kids out.”
“The one guard on duty during the night would then have no choice but to retreat,” Mr Marshall said.
Although he left the centre 18 months ago, the ceilings are still a problem as it was reported that 20 inmates broke through them in January this year.
The low ceilings at Parkville meant the boys were able to trigger the sprinkler system, a fault they would use as a threat.
When the precinct asked for government support to fix these issues, the answer was no.
“I think this government is definitely reactive not preventative,” Mr Marshall said.
“It wasn’t until kids would break through the roof and make the front page of the newspaper, then the politicians would care and we’d get millions.”
Mr Danielz said that Code Reds, meaning fire, were constantly called at Malmsbury, even in the new lock down unit.
“You’d think a $20 million unit would be up to scratch with that stuff,” Mr Danielz said.
The Minister for Youth Affairs, Ms Mikakos, promised in Parliament that action would be taken on the infrastructure needs of the centre in Malmsbury.
However, Mr Danielz has regular contact with an inmate still in the centre who claimed nothing has changed.
Mr Danielz worked on the painting program while in the centre and was trusted with driving trucks, which even he admits was perhaps a security error.
“I would drive up to the boom gate, wave at the camera and be let through. Within 200 meters I could drive straight on to the main road and go if I wanted.”
A wheelchair bound friend of Mr Danielz even managed to escape an open unit late last year.
“That shows you the security measures,” Mr Danielz said.