Uncovering Sexual Abuse at Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre
Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre (MPJJC) is a correctional facility in the Australian state of New South Wales. Primarily housing young individuals convicted of crimes, the facility used to be a boys’ training school – The Gosford Training School – in 1960.
Mount Penang was designed to provide education and help young offenders find work, especially those individuals who needed care and protection. But due to the increase in the population of the facility and a rise in crime rates, MPJJC became increasingly overcrowded. It was during this time that concerns began to rise around the abuse and mistreatment of boys in care.
The Gosford Training School was renamed in 1980 as the Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre. It was during the renaming that the facility took a different approach to its methods, the focus shifting more towards providing rehabilitation and support to young offenders rather than education and aiding in work.
There were many reforms in which therapy was prioritised for young offenders. Still, a much greater emphasis also had to be placed on the education and training around mental health and its services.
Even today, the Juvenile Justice Centre continues to operate – lauded as a ‘state-of-the-art’ facility for young offenders and provides a range of programs and services to support the rehabilitation of young individuals who have had a poor start to their lives, helping them reintegrate into their community.
However, the history of Mount Penang hasn’t always been positive, and there have been several instances of child sexual and physical abuse and misconduct reported.
Child Sexual Abuse at Mount Penang
In 1998, an inquiry was launched into allegations of child sexual abuse at the facility, which found that some staff members had engaged in sexual misconduct with young offenders. The inquiry also found that the centre’s management had failed to adequately address the issue and protect the welfare of the young people in their care.
In 2018, a former inmate of MPJJC spoke out about the sexual abuse he experienced at the centre in the 1990s. The man claimed that he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a senior staff member and that he was not the only victim of this individual. The man’s allegations prompted a new inquiry into sexual abuse at the facility, which is ongoing.
The allegations of sexual abuse at MPJJC are deeply concerning and have highlighted the need for greater accountability and oversight in juvenile justice facilities. The Australian government has implemented several measures to improve the safety and well-being of young people in detention, including the establishment of the National Redress Scheme for victims of institutional child sexual abuse. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that young people in detention are protected from abuse and mistreatment.
A New South Wales court had heard that Laurence “Laurie” Maher, an Order of Australia recipient, had used his ‘clear power’ to sexually assault boys throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
The 84-year-old was on trial in the Sydney District Court for the alleged sexual abuse of four boys whilst in the position of superintendent of Mount Penang Training School.
He faced eight charges, including sexual assault but had pleaded not guilty.
The Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse stressed the unfortunate prevalence of sexual abuse in these centres. The report stated, “our inquiry indicated that detention environments may present higher levels of risk of child sexual abuse, as compared to many other institutional contexts”.
The Commission revealed that of those who came forward, a staggering 515 children in detention had been abused since 1990. Unfortunately, we know that the number of unreported cases is much higher.
How did the Government Respond to the Abuse Allegations?
In response to the reports of physical & sexual abuse at Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre (MPJJC) and other juvenile detention facilities in the country, the Australian Government has taken action.
A Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory found and highlighted serious issues with the treatment of young people in detention across the country, including abuse, mistreatment, and neglect.
In response to the commission’s recommendations, the Australian government has implemented a range of measures to improve the safety and well-being of young people in detention, including the establishment of a National Office for Child Safety and a National Redress Scheme for victims of institutional child sexual abuse.
The government has also increased funding for support services for young people in detention and introduced new laws to prevent the mistreatment of young people in detention.
Specifically, in New South Wales, the government has announced a $148 million plan to replace the existing Parklea Correctional Centre with a new modern facility – part of its scheme to look into juvenile centres in the country.
The new facility will incorporate the latest design principles and techniques to ensure a safer and more secure environment for young people in detention. Additionally, the state government has committed to investing in alternative programs to detention, such as youth mentoring and diversion programs, to help prevent young people from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.
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