26 September 2023

Ombudsman questions jail strip searches again

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The NSW Ombudsman is calling on the Government to explain why it has not implemented his recommendations to enact safeguards for the strip searching of children and young people by prison officers.

Tabling his follow up report Strip searches in youth detention, Ombudsman Paul Miller said his initial recommendations were made in June last year after an investigation into the strip searches of three young people by Corrective Services NSW officers.

Mr Miller said the officers had been called in by Youth Justice NSW to deal with a disturbance at the Frank Baxter Youth Centre.

He found the searches were oppressive, disproportionate to the risk posed, and did not consider the potential impact of the searches on the detainees.

“Strip searches of adolescents are intrusive, can be humiliating, degrading and distressing, and have the potential to cause trauma, anxiety, fear, shame and guilt,” Mr Miller said.

“The traumatic impact of a strip search can be exacerbated by the searched individual’s history and life experience,” he said.

“I am not satisfied that sufficient steps have been taken in reasonable time to implement the recommendations.”

Mr Miller said legislation had not been prepared, introduced or enacted to give effect to his 2021 recommendations.

The Ombudsman said these recommendations included legislation to prohibit routine strip searches and fully naked body strip searches of children and young people in detention.

He also recommended requirements that searches be conducted with the least intrusive method to achieve their purpose, involved the removal of no more clothes and no more visual inspection than was reasonably necessary, and be conducted in private.

Mr Miller said a joint response by the responsible ministers (the then Minister for Families and Community Services, Alister Henskens, and the then Minister for Counter Terrorism and Corrections, Anthony Roberts) in August rejected five of his nine recommendations.

“None of the recommendations for legislative safeguards were supported,” he said.

The Ombudsman’s 21-page follow up Report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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