What can detainees complain about?
Young people who are in custody, or who are supervised in the community, can complain to the Ombudsman about any NSW government agency. Some examples of the types of complaints we receive include:
- not being treated properly or fairly
- unreasonable decisions being made
- delays in receiving information or a service.
Apart from Youth Justice and Justice Health, some of the agencies which detainees might come in contact with include NSW Police, NSW Department of Education, Revenue NSW, local councils and transport bodies. The Ombudsman may be able to assist with complaints about any of these or other NSW government agencies.
More information about what the Ombudsman does generally and the areas we cover can be found on our Home page.
How do detainees make complaints?
Any problem which is about something that has happened in a youth justice centre should first be raised with staff in the detainee’s unit. It may also be necessary for them to bring the problem to the attention of the centre manager using their complaints process.
Detainees can also speak to the Official Visitor about their complaints. At least one official visitor is appointed by the Attorney General and Minister for Justice to visit each centre on a regular basis. They can speak to detainees about their complaints and will try to get their problems fixed. They can also help with making complaints to other agencies such as the Ombudsman.
Complaints that can't be resolved locally can be referred to us. If possible, complaints to us should be in writing. The complaint should be placed in a sealed envelope and Youth Justice will pay for the postage. Letters to us can be in any language. We can also arrange for translations, interpreters and other services.
More serious complaints - such as allegations of assault by staff or serious maladministration, can be immediately referred to us without going through the internal complaints system. If we receive a complaint we think should have been raised within the juvenile justice system first, we will give the person complaining advice about how to do that.
If a detainee wants to discuss a complaint with us – whether it is about the youth justice system or any other NSW agency - they can call us for free on the phones in their unit. There is usually a list next to the phone to show detainees how to call us – otherwise they can ask unit staff for help. Phone calls to our office are not monitored by Youth Justice staff.
All letters to and from us are confidential and cannot be opened by centre staff. When a detainee gets a letter from us, they will be asked to sign a cover sheet to say it has been received and not opened. This is then placed on their file as a record.
Detainees can also make complaints to our staff when they visit their centre. We will interview them in private and will try to resolve their problem before we leave the centre. If that’s not possible, we will continue to work on their problem back in the office.
What about health complaints?
Health services in the youth justice system are provided by Justice Health – a part of the NSW public health system. If a detainee has a problem with the health services they are receiving in custody they should first talk to the Nursing Unit Manager at the clinic in their centre. Most problems can be resolved at this point. Detainees can also write to the CEO of Justice Health about health care problems. The CEO’s address is PO Box 150 Matraville 2036.
Where a problem about the quality of the health service provider, the decisions made by medical professionals or the type of medication prescribed to them is not resolved by Justice Health then the detainee should contact the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) to see if they can help. The HCCC is a freecall on the detainee telephones.
Problems about access to health services, delays and other administrative issues around health care can be raised with us if they can’t be resolved by discussion with the Nursing Unit Manager. See “Contacting the Ombudsman”.
When can't the Ombudsman help?
The CEO of Youth Justice and centre managers have wide powers under the law to make many decisions. If they have good reasons for those decisions and have not set out to victimise a detainee, we will not intervene. We can check that they have followed the law and reasonable administrative practice. If they have, they have done nothing wrong - even if the person complaining is still unhappy with the decision.
There are matters the Ombudsman cannot investigate. These are generally set out in the Ombudsman Act. Some examples of matters relating to the juvenile justice system that we can't investigate include:
- decisions of the Serious Young Offenders Review Panel
- the conduct or outcome of court cases
- solicitors, politicians or ministers of the crown.
What happens with complaints?
Every time someone contacts us - whether it is over the phone, by letter or on a visit – we assess the information they give us to decide whether or not it is a complaint that we need to act on.
Sometimes people's complaints are based on a misunderstanding of the law or the agency’s policies or procedures. If this is the case, we will explain this and why we have decided not to take any further action.
If we need more information – usually from the agency complained about - we will make some initial inquiries by telephone or letter. In some cases we may visit the centre and talk to the centre manager. Often once we have made these inquiries we can either have the problem fixed, or provide the person making the complaint with more information and a better understanding about why something has or has not happened. We will write and tell the complainant about this.
If the complaint is not satisfactorily explained or resolved, a formal investigation may then take place. If an investigation reveals some form of wrong conduct, we will recommend action to solve the problem. The complainant will always be told of the result of our investigation and the reasons for our decisions.
We cannot force an agency to comply with our recommendations, but most agencies do accept them. If they don't, we can make a report to Parliament.
Can someone be victimised for making a complaint?
It is a criminal offence to victimise someone for complaining to the Ombudsman or for assisting or giving evidence to the Ombudsman. No one can be charged for making a complaint unless they have purposely misled or lied to the Ombudsman. If someone believes they have been victimised for making a complaint to the Ombudsman, they should tell us. We take such allegations very seriously.