Brendan Murray vividly recalls his first trip to Barwon Prison in the days after teen inmates were transferred to the adult jail on the orders of the Andrews government.
"There were 15 guards crowded around a child in handcuffs. They were standing over him, intimidating him," Murray says.
It was last November and Murray, the then executive principal of Parkville College – a network of schools inside Victoria's youth jails – says he was quickly ushered out of the Grevillea Unit by corrections staff and into an adjoining office.
Tradesmen were working frantically, trying to make secure an adult jail unit that a Victorian Supreme Court judge later found was selected by the state government without basic planning and preparation.
"It was not ready for use, but they just rolled them in there anyway," says Murray.
When Murray asked to speak to the teen inmates he was responsible for educating, he says he was mocked by corrections staff.
Then, a doctor pulled Murray aside to complain that he was unable to distribute medication. Murray says he "demanded" to speak to the inmates. He also queried why they were being locked in their cells for 23 hours a day.
"I told the corrections staff, 'You can't do that'. They said 'we're doing this to let them know who is boss'."
Murray says he was eventually allowed to speak to the teen inmates through slots in their doors.
"They complained of being threatened with spray and that they were told by guards that they would have their face in the concrete [if they misbehaved]. They were terrified."
The principal negotiated with a senior corrections officer to allow two of the most vulnerable inmates to have an hour outside their cells. The officer agreed, but, according to Murray, he told the two: "If you cross over this piece of carpet, your face will be in the concrete."
Murray is speaking out about what he witnessed at Barwon in an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media and the ABC's 7.30. It is a fortnight after he resigned as Victoria's most senior juvenile justice educator.
His decision to go public means he may never work in the state education system again, but Murray feels a moral obligation to expose what he sees as the mismanagement and politicisation of the youth justice system by a government desperate to be seen as tough on crime.
Murray is no starry-eyed idealist. It's a simple fact, he says, that some of his former students are rapists, murderers and carjackers. Many who enter the system have experienced severe trauma, having endured violence, neglect and sexual abuse, or have an intellectual disability. Many will never reform.
"Some kids leave Parkville and die within 48 hours. We had a kid who left, shot dead another student and was back in custody. If I walked through Port Phillip Prison, I would know plenty of the adults in there as they have passed through the system as kids.
"But there are also plenty of kids who have done better and who aren't back in jail."
Murray warns that if the rehabilitation and education initiatives which made Victoria a national leader in youth justice are lost in the sweeping reforms outlined by the state government, it may mean "more Adrian Bayleys on the streets".
Brendan Murray ditched a promising career as an elite footballer to work with disadvantaged children, firstly as a social worker and then as a teacher. Now a passionate 44-year-old, Murray knows what it is like to do it tough. He grew up in a working class Irish family in Collingwood and his father killed himself when Murray was a teenager.
In 2009, he was named Victoria's teacher of the year after he started the Pavilion School for disadvantaged children in Melbourne's north. Two years later, he was hand-picked by the Baillieu government to set up a schooling system inside youth jails.
But last year, Victoria's youth justice system seemed to be disintegrating. A series of destructive riots at Parkville, then a mass escape and disturbances at its sister facility, Malmsbury, in January, highlighted a surge in violent crime and anti-social behaviour by a hardcore group of teens.
The government's response was to send young offenders to an adult maximum security jail – a decision that was quickly challenged by human rights lawyers. Those early court challenges succeeded, with a judge declaring the government had failed to assess the potentially detrimental impact on young prisoners of being moved to an adult prison. The government reaction was to reclassify Grevillea as a youth jail.
Murray's resignation from the system last month came in fraught circumstances –he had fallen out with the department that employed him because he assisted the human rights lawyers in their case.
Now, for the first time, he is speaking out.
He says the use of Barwon amounted to a form of "torture" – one which will make the community less safe because of the way the restrictive environment undermines rehabilitation and punishes inmates.
He says that despite improvements, education is still difficult to deliver at Barwon. Inmates are locked down for up to 23 hours a day. Murray says that the teens complain of threats, abuse and mistreatment by staff. Teen inmates have assaulted fellow inmates.
Murray is also challenging the Andrews government's rationale that it had to use Barwon because there were no other secure youth jail units in Victoria after the Parkville riots, which destroyed dozens of beds.
"The government 100 per cent misled the [public]," says Murray, who claims he was party to internal discussions about how to avoid using Barwon.
"Barwon did not need to be used for the children. I suspect it needed to be used by the government for political reasons and for people to hold onto their jobs."
In January, Murray was suspended but later cleared of wrongdoing for sending an email to the human rights lawyers that suggested there were alternative youth jail facilities available if Barwon was found unsuitable.
Murray maintains the government misled not only the public but the Supreme Court about the existence of secure beds in other parts of the system.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services said "the assertions made by Mr Murray are false and misleading".
"The government considered all options available and determined that the Grevillea Unit was the only facility available to safely and securely provide additional accommodation while the facilities at Parkville were repaired and fortified," the spokesman said.
Now, for the moment, the young offenders are at Barwon, and Murray remains scathing of the inability to deliver education there, despite improvements to Grevillea. He says his teaching staff previously "made daily complaints to me, including in writing, about the conditions and treatment of detainees and how impossible it is to provide education in such a setting".
Murray also claims he was pressured by Education Department officials to tell a court hearing that education could be adequately delivered at Barwon, despite his belief to the contrary.
"I was told what the department would like the Supreme Court to hear and what the department wouldn't like the Supreme Court to hear," says Murray of conversations he had with two senior department officers in the three days before he was called to testify at a December hearing.
An Education Department spokesman said the Department "strongly rejects any suggestion that it was seeking to influence testimony".
What is not in dispute is that Victoria's justice system now stands at a critical juncture.
The state government and opposition have both embraced "tough on crime" rhetoric to respond to the youth justice crisis. This rhetoric depicts teen "thugs" as the problem and tougher punishment as a solution.
The use of Barwon forms part of this narrative. So does the Andrews government's plan to build a new "supermax" youth prison and shift the youth justice portfolio from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Justice Department, which runs adult prisons.
The responses and rhetoric are entirely predictable given recent events. A spike in the number of young people being remanded, the emergence of a new profile of youth offender – often with a migrant background – and use of the drug ice has placed the system under severe strain.
But Murray says responsibility for the crisis extends beyond individual perpetrators to successive state governments.
He says they failed to heed repeated reports and warning signs that the system was imploding due to underfunding, staffing mismanagement, failing infrastructure and outsourcing. The response was the overzealous use of lock-downs and isolation (in which inmates are kept in their cells for extended periods). These ingredients created a tinderbox environment inside Parkville and Malmsbury.
Paul McDonald, a former senior departmental official and now Anglicare CEO, has identified "the breakdown in the all-important relationship between young people and the youth officers inside" as one of the contributing factors to the riots.
This breakdown is not the fault of youth justice officers, who are responsible for securing and managing the facilities. They too have been the victims of the failures plaguing the system.
In comments backed by youth justice officers, Murray explains that staff rely on lockdowns when they feel unsafe, either due to staff shortages, inexperience or insecure buildings. Lockdowns aggravate unstable inmates, who then lash out, exploiting weaknesses in the facilities to break out of their cells and riot.
"My biggest complaint over the last 18 months was that kids were not getting to class because they were locked down due to staff shortages," says Murray.
"It meant they weren't getting their best chance at rehabilitation and [were] getting pissed off. That is why they rioted."
"Kids who are sent to prison are clearly not angels. If they can punch through a roof or walk out of a roller door, and then have the staff withdraw en masse, what do you think will happen? Will they have a Bible reading?"
Murray is not alone in his view. Confidential government reports commissioned by the Andrews government, including a 2016 report by former NSW youth jail chief Peter Muir, say much the same thing.
From 2012, Parkville College expanded across multiple youth jail facilities, and it now employs 150 staff teaching VCAL and VCE, trade and life skills. Murray was working six to seven days a week, sometimes teaching classes himself. He focused on small wins.
"Even if a kid told me to 'get f---ed' in his first class, I would say, I am proud that you came in to school. When kids showed up regularly, we would call up their mum and be positive."
Education and rehabilitation can have more impact on children and teen inmates, who are still developing mentally and socially, than their adult peers.
"If a 14-year-old who may have gone to emergency 200 times a year for self-harming comes to class, is happy, stops cutting himself and joins the student council, it's a huge win. In 2012, we had our first kid complete year 12. Now year 12 is routine for children at Parkville."
When Parkville College was started, Murray's ultimate goal was not just to deliver classes but to challenge and change a culture across a system that favoured punitive justice.
"When I applied for the job, I was asked, 'What is your strategic plan?' I said, 'Year one is to win over the custodial staff. Year two is to win over the custodial staff. Year three is to win over the custodial staff.' I know the culture and how it can default to control and contain, discipline and punishment. Every time a child strikes out, it is likely they will be punished more."
Murray's vision has its detractors. Several experienced youth justice staff who spoke to Fairfax Media dismiss the school as a failed social experiment. But these same staff also point to the need to better engage with teen offenders. They, too, partly blame lockdowns and mismanagement for the riots.
Several Parkville teachers who spoke confidentially to Fairfax Media say their job is a slog. There are few easy wins. Classes are shut down when inmates steal or fight. But the teachers have also witnessed young prisoners read their first book, then go on to read many more, or learn basic cooking skills.
After the Don Dale scandal erupted in the Northern Territory, Murray was called to Brisbane to present a paper to senior youth justice officials around Australia. They appeared hungry for alternatives to regimes that favour punitive measures.
Victoria, says Murray, was applauded by other states. A few weeks later, the Parkville riots erupted and the crisis many inside the system had been predicting hit the headlines.
The Victorian Commissioner for Children and Young People, Liana Buchanan, told Fairfax Media she is "absolutely concerned" the reform of Victoria's youth justice system "will [see it] go backwards".
Anglicare's Paul McDonald has also warned against moving Victoria's youth jails to the Justice Department.
Murray wants to see the reforms play out in a system with many moving parts, from bail and sentencing rules, to prison infrastructure and the future of the education system he founded.
The state government has not missed an opportunity to slam teen criminals. But, more quietly, it has also promised funding to programs to divert vulnerable teens away from behaviour that will land them in jail.
The government also recently accepted in principle the recommendations of a report by Buchanan that was scathing of the use of lockdowns and isolation in the system.
Murray views his biggest legacy as introducing a registered schooling system inside youth justice which is "really hard to dismantle". Earlier this year, he extracted $16 million in funding from the state government.
But he says the future of the school system he built, and the question of how it will operate inside the yet-to-be-built "supermax" prison, is deeply troubling.
"I've always viewed my job as preventing future victims. Locking a kid in a box and telling them they are shit, or throwing them in an adult jail, doesn't decrease their chances of re-offending.
"All the research says that giving them a path towards a trade or education does."