The Northern Territory’s youth detention system is in dire need of a complete overhaul, including the immediate shuttering of the infamous Don Dale Youth Detention Centre‘s high security unit, according to the long-awaited report from the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.
Fifteen months after the inquest was assembled in the aftermath of Four Corners’ devastating report on conditions at the centre, commissioners Margaret White and Mick Gooda said they “found shocking and systemic failures occurred over many years and were known and ignored at the highest levels.”
“Children and young people were subjected to regular, repeated and distressing mistreatment in detention and there was a failure to follow the procedures and requirements of the law in many instances,” they added.
The list of findings is harrowing.
Youth detention facilities “were not fit for accommodating, let alone rehabilitating, children and young people.” Children were frequently subjected to “verbal abuse, physical control and humiliation,” including the withholding of food, water, and access to toilets.
Children were also “dared or bribed” into committing “degrading and humiliating acts,” or even acts of violence against other detained youth.
The report notes guards threw children to the ground, and that isolation as punishment was used outside of the parameters set by the Youth Justice Act (NT), “very likely” resulting in “lasting psychological damage.”
And that’s just regarding the detention system. The commission states the Territory Families has failed to provide the necessary support to some children that would otherwise decrease their likelihood of being sucked into the youth justice system, and that a lack of resources has impacted the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.
In response to these findings, the commission has recommended a holistic reform of the Territory’s youth justice system. Chief among the immediate responses is the proposed closure of the Don Dale centre, at which 17-year-old Dylan Voller was subjected to the horrific treatment that made international headlines.
The commission also proposes raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12 instead of 10, and only detaining kids under 14 if there are “exceptional circumstances.”
In a joint response to the findings, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Attorney-General George Brandis, and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said that while most of the findings are matters for the NT, “many of the recommendations have wider implications for all jurisdictions.”
You can read the full, comprehensive list of recommendations right HERE.
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Image: Four Corners / ABC