Abuse fact of life at Acmena ? ex-worker

PHYSICAL and verbal threats, spitting and abuse are a fact of life for employees working with inmates at the Acmena Juvenile Justice Centre at South Grafton, the Member for Clarence, Steve Cansdell, said yesterday.

Debate about employee security at Acmena arising from the assault of a youth worker last Sunday prompted two Acmena employees and one former worker to contact Mr Cansdell with examples of the abuse they had suffered.

"I had a phone call from a former worker ... who said there had been at least five people off work on worker's compensation for serious assaults (by inmates) since the Acmena riots," he said.

The Director-General of Juvenile Justice, David Sherlock, confirmed Mr Cansdell's comments but insisted that assaults were taken seriously and treated as a criminal matter.

"At Acmena...during 2004 and 2005, five staff members had some time off work because of injuries sustained as result of an assault by a detainee," he said.

"It is important to understand that centre staff are often required to restrain difficult or violent detainees. One of the main roles of a juvenile justice centre is to detain young offenders whose behaviour the court's have assessed as a risk to the community."

Mr Cansdell likened the disciplinary issues facing Acmena to the problems that plagued the scandalised Kariong Juvenile Justice Centre late last year.

He believed Juvenile Justice Minister Diane Beamer had no other choice but to hand control over to the Department of Corrective Services as she did with Kariong.

"You can have all the walls and wire fences in the world but if you haven't got a rational mindset to run the centre then nothing's going to work," he said.

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