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Prisons and youth detention

People in prison or youth detention have a right to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. People living in settings where their liberty is restricted have limited control over their lives and choices. They may be vulnerable to having their human rights abused or denied.

How does the law protect me?

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, providers of goods and services have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible.

In some circumstances, prisons and detention centres may be providing a service and have obligations under the Equal Opportunity Act.

Prisons run by or for the Victorian Government have additional responsibilities under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities and more information is available under the For public sector part of our website.

The law protects you from discrimination

It is against the law for someone to treat you unfairly because of a personal characteristic that is protected by law, such as your:

  • disability
  • race
  • religion
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity.

Discrimination could include:

  • a staff member refusing to pass on mail to you because you have a disability
  • a guard verbally abusing you because of your race
  • medical staff refusing to treat you because of your sexuality
  • a prison not providing you with food that follows medical advice from your doctor, and continuing to serve standard food against this advice.
  • a prison officer refusing to provide Halal or Kosher food options to Muslim or Jewish prisoners despite their requests
  • a prison deciding to implement a blanket rule to segregate all HIV positive prisoners and refusing to allow them to use exercise facilities or to work like other prisoners.

Find out more about discrimination.

The law protects you from sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is also against the law. Find out more about sexual harassment.

It is also against the law to victimise a person, which means treat them badly or unfairly, because they have made a complaint about discrimination, sexual harassment or vilification, or have helped someone else to make a complaint.


You can make a complaint

Get help from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

You can make a complaint to us if you think you have experienced:

If you wish, someone else can make a complaint for you.

Find out how the Commission helps people resolve complaints.

We can also give you information about your rights.

My human rights under the Charter

Every Victorian has the right to equal and effective protection against discrimination, and to enjoy their human rights without discrimination.

Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities contains 20 basic rights that promote and protect the values of freedom, respect, equality, and dignity.

The Victorian Government, local councils and other public authorities must always consider these rights when they create laws, develop policies and deliver their services.

Find out more about your human rights under the Charter and what to do if you think they have been breached.

Human rights in Victoria's prisons and detention centres

Victorian prisons, detention centres and other closed environments must not knowingly be in breach of these rights, and must always consider them when they develop policies and deliver their services.

The Charter protects:

The right to recognition and equality before the law

Everyone is entitled to equal and effective protection against discrimination, and to enjoy their human rights without discrimination.

The right to protection from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

People must not be tortured. People must also not be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way. This includes protection from treatment that humiliates a person. People must not be subjected to medical treatment or experiments without their full and informed consent.

Cultural rights

People can have different family, religious or cultural backgrounds. They can enjoy their culture, declare and practice their religion and use their languages. Aboriginal persons hold distinct cultural rights.

The right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty

People have the right to be treated with humanity if they are accused of breaking the law and are detained.

Rights of children in the criminal process

A child charged with committing a crime or who has been detained without charge must not be held with adults. They must also be brought to trial as quickly as possible and treated in a way that is appropriate for their age.

Children are entitled to opportunities for education and rehabilitation in detention.

What are closed environments?

Prisons, detention centres and care settings where residents’ liberty is restricted, are sometimes referred to as ‘closed environments’.

People living in closed environments have limited control over their lives and choices and are more vulnerable to having their human rights abused or denied.

This is a major issue that the Commission is committed to change.

Find out more about the rights of people in closed environments.

How the Commission works to protect the rights of people in closed environments

We are committed to protecting human rights in closed environments.

Our 2017–22 Strategic Plan, Upholding human rights close to home, will guide our work for the next five years to achieve our vision for a fair, safe and inclusive Victoria where everyone is respected and treated with dignity.

One of our four strategic priorities is to protect human rights in closed environments. Under this priority, we will:

  • raise awareness of the importance of human rights in closed environments and how individuals can assert their rights
  • identify and address the systems, structures and practices that result in unfair treatment, abuse or neglect in particular closed environments
  • assist in the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) and its standards for monitoring places of detention.

In the five years we seek to:

  • ensure law and policy that regulates closed environments is better informed by human rights principles
  • help vulnerable individuals have a greater awareness of rights in closed environments and empower them so they
    better equipped to take action if their rights are violated
  • help institutions understand the benefits of human rights and make sure they are more committed to protecting the human rights of people in their care.

OPCAT

In December 2017, the Australian Government joined an international agreement called the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).

By joining, Australia has agreed to meet international standards which aim to prevent cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment within closed environments.

From December 2017, Australia has been given a three-year period to introduce measures to fully comply with the agreement. An extra two years’ extension may be sought if necessary.

The implementation of this treaty presents an opportunity for us to significantly improve human rights protection of people in detention. We are committed to the effective implementation of OPCAT in Victoria.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

There are some exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act that mean it’s not against the law to discriminate in particular circumstances. For example, discrimination is not against the law if there is a real risk to someone’s health, safety or property.

Find out more about exceptions.

Related resources

Aboriginal cultural rights in youth justice centres – Jul 2018

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Address
Level 3, 204 Lygon Street Carlton Victoria 3053

General enquiries
enquiries@veohrc.vic.gov.au

Reception
1300 891 848

Enquiry line
1300 292 153 or (03) 9032 3583

Interpreters
1300 152 494

NRS Voice Relay
1300 555 727 then use 1300 292 153

Media enquiries
0447 526 642

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as First Australians and recognises their culture, history, diversity and deep connection to the land.

We acknowledge that the Commission is on the land of the Kulin Nation and pay our respects to Elders past and present.