Royal Commission into NT Juvenile Detention
26 July 2016 at 8:39 am
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced a royal commission to investigate the issues raised in an ABC Four Corners report into abuse in the juvenile detention system in the Northern Territory.
The PM has stepped in as the Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles said he would seek advice on the establishment of a royal commission.
The ABC program likened the juvenile detention system to Guantanamo Bay in the US showing footage of a 17-year-old strapped into a mechanical restraint chair in the Northern Territory’s Don Dale detention facility, along with a series of other videos, showing the repeated stripping, assault and mistreatment of him and other boys including the use of tear gas.
“Like all Australians I was shocked and disgusted by [the] Four Corners program,” Giles said in a statement released Monday night after the program aired.
However, Turnbull said Tuesday morning the commission would be established “as soon as possible” and would involve the NT government.
“We want to know how this came about, we want to know what lessons can be learned from it,” Turnbull told ABC Radio.
“This is a shocking state of affairs and we will move quickly to establish what happened.”
Giles said the program raised questions about what was going on in the juvenile detention system that date back to 2010.
“A community is judged by the way it treats its children and serious questions were raised by ABC tonight,” Giles said.
“Equally the Northern Territory Government does not resile from its tough approach to those who don’t want to respect others people’s property or safety.
“While the community grants those responsible for running our custodial system certain powers to do a difficult job, those powers have limits. Policies and procedures exist to codify what those powers are and when and how they can be used.
“What we saw tonight raises questions about whether those powers have been used in the right way.
“I have asked the commissioner of NT Police to consider if the incidents highlighted by Four Corners were used in accordance with the powers afforded to custodial officers.”
However, the chief minister said he had full confidence in the majority of custodial officers working in the Northern Territory’s institutions.
“They have a challenging and difficult job, one that not many people wish to do. To those officers I want to say, you have my full support for the work that you do in upholding our laws.”
Human Rights Commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs told the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night that the CCTV footage was disgraceful and she called for an inquiry into the matter.
“[It is disgraceful] that you could even refer to children in [that] way, let alone what they did physically to the children in terms of the tear gas and the stripping of them of their clothes and leaving them in isolation for such long periods,” Triggs said.
“It’s not good enough to say this has been fixed up. We need a proper inquiry and the facts need to be determined and then we can determine whether people should be charged.”
— Tim Costello (@TimCostello) July 25, 2016
The Not for Profit child rights agency Save the Children has also called for an immediate Australia-wide review of all juvenile justice facilities to ensure that the abuse of children is not happening elsewhere.
Save the Children’s director of public affairs and policy Mat Tinkler said: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the disgusting abuse of children at the Don Dale detention centre. It beggars belief that a so-called civilised society would treat children this way, children assaulted, denied sunlight, running water and education, stripped naked, shackled, hooded, humiliated and tear–gassed.
“This reprehensible and outrageous behaviour does nothing to help rehabilitate youth offenders whom should be supported to prevent them from offending again. The solution to preventing future abuses is not to lock up children in the first place.”
Tinkler said that while the Four Corners program showed graphically how young offenders are badly let down by a broken system, figures from Save the Children estimated that incarcerating young Indigenous offenders – who comprise the majority of detained young offenders – costs the Australian taxpayer $240 million a year.
“A debate is needed in this country about how to reduce the shocking numbers of incarcerated young Indigenous offenders. Alarmingly, an Indigenous young person is around 26 times more likely to be in detention than a non-Indigenous young person. But we also know that locking up young offenders is grotesquely wasteful, costing the Australian taxpayer in excess of $240 million per year,” Tinkler said.
“These astronomical figures are symbolic of so much of the disadvantage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to face. It is a stain on our nation that in 2016 this type of gross inequality still exists in Australia, and we need to make changing this a national priority.”
Tinkler said Save the Children already had success in turning young people away from a life of crime and repeat offending as an alternative to the harsh treatment of young offenders.
“Save the Children’s juvenile justice programs in places like Tasmania are transforming lives where once young people were on a collision course with adult prison and a life of crime. A recent independent study by Ernst & Young revealed that our award-winning programs with at risk young people save the Tasmanian taxpayer millions of dollars and prevents young lives from being caught up in the justice system.”
Save the Children has also called for the restoration of $300 million in funding for Indigenous programs taken out of the 2014 federal budget, the reinvestment of that money into programs that divert children from the criminal justice system, and new a justice target for Close the Gap to reduce the rate of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.