Joanne Lisa's story

Joanne is a psychiatrist who is passionate about helping young offenders get rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. And her job in a government-run facility meant that she could do just that, until she was bullied and harassed out of it. Her frustration and distress about what happened to her 10 years ago was still evident when she came to the Royal Commission.

‘I want to be heard and I want clients to get some therapy because our society is getting worse … There are so many hurting but stuffed-up people … Juvenile justice could be an opportunity for them to turn everything around and some of them were … There’s such an opportunity going to waste.’

Joanne worked at a juvenile justice centre in Victoria. Most of the staff were dedicated and had the appropriate skills and abilities. Joanne believes that if they’d had the right manager they could have achieved great things. ‘But we were just squashed.’

For the first three years, the centre ran well under a good coordinator. But Ruth Blackwell, the manager, was a serial bully.

Joanne ran a small reintegration program at the centre. When a client of hers was assaulted by a staff member during the program, Joanne reported it. The coordinator was pulled out and Ruth was put in charge. Then ‘it just disintegrated’.

Proper policy and procedures weren’t followed. One client was a known sex offender and a potential danger to other clients. Blackwell got a nurse ‘to have a chat to him about his sexuality’ rather than establish a behaviour management plan for the staff.

Four of Joanne’s clients were assaulted by the offender. She helped one of them make a report to police but was then moved to another unit. It meant that she couldn’t see his case through. There was no continuity for him and Joanne believes the police report was quashed.

One staff member was having sex with an underage youth. To Joanne’s disbelief, the staff member was not removed from her position.

Joanne’s recommendations were often dismissed. Blackwell told her that she was employed as a ‘health worker’ and that she was not to practise as a psychiatrist, despite the fact that part of her role was to write assessments for clients coming up for parole. In one case she reported her fear that the youth would re-offend if released. He was released and almost immediately sexually assaulted a young girl.

When Joanne wrote a report about the bastardisation going on in the facility, Blackwell told her to withdraw it. She considered ‘bastardisation’ to be slang and on that basis the report was not getting sent to higher authorities, nor was it ever resubmitted.

Joanne was transferred to maximum security where she saw several young men get assaulted by staff. But the culture of the institution meant that people just turned a blind eye.

Joanne remembers asking a few times ‘Isn’t that illegal?’ after a staff member assaulted a client. She rang the Ombudsman’s office. They said that since she hadn’t reported the assaults to police they couldn’t do anything. But Joanne was advocating for the boys; it wasn’t her place to report a crime in the centre. ‘Where do I stand? There’s no clear guidelines.’

The centre management pressured her to ‘shut up’ about the assaults. They also amended her parole board reports, which ended up putting some of her clients in danger.

Joanne says there was nowhere safe for her to report what was going on.

‘Here is the first time I’ve felt like someone would listen. It’s not from want of trying.’

Joanne is pessimistic about seeing improvements in the future, even though reporting laws have changed. ‘They’re a law unto themselves, they do what they like. They don’t follow the law.’

The centre ‘targeted people that were good at their jobs … They recruit those that are “yes” people and department people and they get rid of people with integrity and people that can actually stand up for themselves’.

After Joanne spoke out, her programs were sabotaged and colleagues were not allowed to speak with her.

In the mid-2000s she went ahead with a harassment report ‘because this was untenable’. Management responded with a ‘template’ for getting rid of her. The union weren’t interested in Joanne’s case. And WorkSafe Victoria were only investigating whether or not policy and procedures were in place.

Joanne told the Commissioner that many good workers have been harassed out of the centre where she worked. They knew young men needed to be dealt with therapeutically but management didn’t.

‘Management were for their own purposes and it wasn’t to rehabilitate those young men … It was just intervention and domination and they wanted to play games with staff and clients.’

Joanne recommends that the Department of Human Services stop grooming staff who then tolerate bad systemic behaviour.

‘DHS needs a bloody good vacuuming’ Joanne said. ‘My God, what the Family Court do to people, it’s horrendous ... but DHS inform the Family Court.’

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