Abuse Law – Institutions – Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre, NSW

State Government-run Institutions

The New South Wales Government established reformatory schools and detention centres to provide institutional care and confinement for young people deemed to be in the need of ‘correction’. The Child Welfare Department were responsible for the management of these government-run institutions.

Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre

In 1946, the New South Wales Government established and opened Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre, situated on Pacific Highway, Kariong NSW. Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre replaced the Gosford Training School.  

Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre (previously known as Mount Penang Training School for Boys and Mount Penang Detention Centre) operated as a detention centre for boys under the age of 18 (predominately aged between 14 to 16 years) who been convicted of criminal offences or had been deemed as too difficult to manage in other departmental institutions. The children were typically confined by a court order at Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre (“Mount Penang”).  

In 1990, a report described the units at Mount Penang as follows: 

  • Walpole – the most secure unit; 
  • Vernon – for youths with interpersonal relationship problems and/or drug problems 
  • Sabraon – for youths with previous committals 
  • Carinya – for youth serving their first committal 
  • Stayner – the drug and alcohol unit; and 
  • Wood – for youths with previous committals but who are not ‘habitual offenders’. 

Mount Penang was managed by a Superintendent who supervised and reported to the New South Wales government (through its agencies). Laurence “Laurie” Maher was the Superintendent at Mount Penang for around 15 years until the early 1990s.   

Mount Penang closed in 1999 and its functions were taken over by Kariong Juvenile Correctional Centre (and later Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre).

History of Abuse at Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre

In 1991, the New South Wales Ombudsman conducted an inquiry into the administration of Mount Penang after receiving a letter from an inmate who described being seriously harassed and assaulted by other detainees (involving threats of gang rape, being hit in the head with a steel bar, being bitten, cut, shoulder-charged, assaulted in his own bed in front of a staff member, burned with a cigarette, taunted homophobically, being nearly drowned, and being bashed so seriously that he ended up in hospital twice). The inquiry resulted in the finding that the department had failed to ensure that the staff acted within the law when dealing with the boys.  

In 1998, another inquiry was conducted which found that staff members had engaged in sexual misconduct with the boys, and that Mount Penang’s management had failed to adequately address the issue and protect the welfare of the boys in their care.  

The boys were made to work all hours of the day and were treated as slave labour. In 2013, a video was uploaded on YouTube that shows former residents describing the labour and harsh conditions at Mount Penang. They described that the boys worked in a row, turning over the soil in a paddock with only shovels, digging one by one. One of the former residents recalled boys collapsing in the hot sun and being left there or moved under a tree, and not receiving any water.  

In 2014, a former resident provided a statement to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in which he described the violent physical and sexual assaults he received from officers at Mount Penang and said that Mount Penang “…was more like a jail than a home, the boys who lived there referred to it as “the Pound.”  

In 2020, Laurie Maher was charged with 13 child sex offences for abuse perpetrated against six former residents between 1977 and 1988. Laurie Maher stood trial in relation to these offences at the end of 2022.  

We are specialist abuse lawyers and can help you receive acknowledgement, meaningful apology and financial resolution from those institutions and systems of power that failed to protect you from harm. If you would like advice in relation to a childhood or adult sexual, physical and/or psychological/emotional abuse claim in any jurisdiction in Australia, please reach out to the author, Emily Wright, at Littles Lawyers today. 

Further Abuse Law information written by our Emily Wright can be found on our website.

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