"Our place is f***ed."
That's how a staff member at an out-of-control youth jail on Melbourne's fringe describes the environment she enters every day.
She's seen it all:
• A guard knocked unconscious and nearly scalped by an inmate who swung a guitar at her head with such force it exposed her skull;
• A boy, already unconscious, lifted from a couch and "ragdolled" to the floor before his head was stomped on;
• Children raped in custody;
• Suicide attempts.
This is the dangerous and depressing daily reality for those who choose to work behind the walls of the Parkville Youth Justice Precinct. Or, more accurately, those who last more than a week.
Staff who spoke to news.com.au on condition of anonymity have revealed how a centre designed to keep the community safe from Victoria's worst young criminals is putting the lives of those inside at risk and leaving them terrified of returning to work.
"In 48 hours, we've had five staff assaults," one staff member said. "Three were physically injured. One was spat at in the face. One had a missile thrown at him."
She said three staff members "called in sick" for three weeks after witnessing a disturbing attack that left a young boy with serious head injuries and a staff member needing stitches.
"That was a huge shake-up, seeing the client unconscious like that," the staff member said.
Department of Justice and Regulation records reveal there was almost one assault on staff per day in an eight-month period this year, according to the Herald Sun.
Many who stick around long enough suffer the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Some are on extended leave — their wages and medical costs are being looked after by WorkCover.
But most don't last that long.
A source claims that of 53 "frontline" staff hired during an induction in April, only four remain in the job. The source also claims there are more than 125 staff receiving WorkCover right now. A Corrections Victoria spokesman would not be drawn on these figures and declined to answer questions about why staff turnover was so high.
"You get more stacking shelves at Coles," a staff member said.
"They're coming in at $22 an hour. They think they're going to be able to do actual youth work and change the world. They don't get the chance."
Another staff member said 260 staff had been assaulted between July 2018 and June 2019.
"I'm very surprised there hasn't been a fatality," he said.
"It's through sheer luck and good management of staff administering first aid, or staff throwing themselves on top of kids to protect them, that we haven't had a death in custody."
He said staff were "actually petrified" — some so scared that they get in their car at lunch, drive home and never come back.
"Staff there turn up and come in with the right intention, but they get nothing in return," he said.
"They're assaulted and told by these kids, 'We'll find out where you live and come round and rape your wife and kill your kids.'"
Locked up at Parkville are young Victorians who have already been given second and third and fourth chances. They don't end up behind barbed wire for a first offence unless it's for rape or murder.
The population demographic is changing, too. Staff say "60 per cent" of inmates in Victoria's youth justice system are from African backgrounds — a big change that has forced staff to alter the way they work with the inmates and handle security.
"If you've got a unit with 15 African kids in it, you know staff don't have the upper hand because if it's one-in, it's all-in. We've had eight or nine assaulting staff at once.
Staff say new laws introduced this year to strengthen consequences for youths who assault staff are not being enforced by courts and are not a deterrent. They say youths in custody "know they can get away with it".
"They assault whoever they want. And they usually just get sent to time-out in their rooms for a bit or a TV might be taken away for a couple of nights or they might have to write an essay to talk about why their behaviour wasn't acceptable," a staff member said.
"It means sometimes there's a reluctance to get involved in breaking up a serious assault for fear of becoming a target themselves. They know the kids have nothing to lose."
Last year, a teenager approached an unsuspecting female officer at Malmsbury Youth Justice Precinct near Bendigo with a guitar and "scalped her".
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE BELOW
She didn't see the guitar coming and was knocked out cold before she hit the ground, staff members say.
Pictures show the aftermath of the attack before the 12cm wound was stitched up.
The incidents were followed by two major assaults in July this year that forced Premier Daniel Andrews to promise he would stamp out violent attacks on staff.
"There's no question that every incident is very serious and we take them seriously," Mr Andrews told reporters last month.
Sources told news.com.au one of the staff members attacked in July was "still on light duties" after the attack and more assaults kept coming.
State Liberal frontbencher Brad Battin said staff had become "punching bags".
"Staff in Victoria's youth justice centres should be able to go to work and know that they will sign off and return to their families unharmed," he said.
"Instead, far too many are ending up in hospital with serious and potentially life-threatening injuries."
Corrections Victoria told news.com.au youth justice staff worked in a "very challenging environment".
"They do a brilliant job working with young people to help them turn their lives around," a spokesman said.
"We have introduced new laws to strengthen consequences for young people who assault or intimidate youth justice workers and have invested heavily in improving safety and security across the system.
"More than $1 billion has been invested in youth justice over the past four years to deliver more staff, security upgrades at facilities and new programs and mental health services.
"The Department of Justice and Community Safety has been running targeted recruitment campaigns to attract more youth justice workers to increase the number of staff working in our youth justice centres."
The spokesman did not answer questions about the number of assaults on staff.
News.com.au understands 50 new staff start their training at Parkville this week.