Abuse of young de­tainees al­leged in Aus­tralia’s north

PM ‘shocked and ap­palled’ by video, an­nounces in­ves­ti­ga­tion

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - MICHELLE INNIS

SYD­NEY — Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull an­nounced an in­ves­ti­ga­tion Tues­day into the treat­ment of ju­ve­nile de­tainees in Aus­tralia’s far north, saying he was “shocked and ap­palled” by a news re­port that showed boys be­ing stripped, sprayed with tear gas at close range and, in one case, shack­led to a chair while forced to wear a hood.

The re­port, broad­cast Mon­day night on “Four Corners,” a news pro­gram of the Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing Corp., doc­u­mented abuses at a num­ber of fa­cil­i­ties in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, in­clud­ing the Don Dale chil­dren’s prison in the town of Ber­rimah, near the city of Dar­win. That prison was closed in 2014, but pre­vi­ous in­quiries into al­le­ga­tions of abuse there had not un­cov­ered some of the de­tails shown in the re­port, and some of the new video con­tra­dicted of­fi­cial ac­counts of past episodes.

“This is a shock­ing state of af­fairs,” Turn­bull said in an in­ter­view on ABC ra­dio Tues­day morn­ing. “Like all Aus­tralians, I’ve been deeply shocked, shocked and ap­palled by the im­ages of mis­treat­ment of chil­dren at the Don Dale cen­tre. We will be es­tab­lish­ing a royal com­mis­sion into these events.” A royal com­mis­sion has the power to com­pel wit­nesses to give ev­i­dence.

The min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for the North­ern Ter­ri­tory’s ju­ve­nile jus­tice sys­tem, John Elferink, was dis­missed from that job Tues­day morn­ing, though he con­tin­ues to hold other gov­ern­ment posts. The ter­ri­tory’s chief min­is­ter, Adam Giles, said at a news con­fer­ence that “any­body who saw that footage on tele­vi­sion last night on ‘Four Corners’ would un­doubt­edly de­scribe it as hor­rific footage.”

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, chil­dren as young as 10 were jailed at the Don Dale prison, and some as young as 13 were held for long pe­ri­ods in soli­tary con­fine­ment. Chil­dren were locked in small, high-se­cu­rity cells that had no run­ning wa­ter and no nat­u­ral light, the re­port said. Young boys were sub­jected to bru­tal and de­grad­ing treat­ment, in­clud­ing one who was stripped and an­other who was hurled across his cell by a prison guard.

The re­port in­cluded closed cir­cuit tele­vi­sion footage of two teenage boys scram­bling and cow­er­ing un­der bed­sheets and a mat­tress as tear gas is sprayed into an an­te­room ad­join­ing their cells. The boys, and four oth­ers, also tear-gassed, are shack­led and dragged outdoors, cry­ing and gag­ging, where they are sprayed with a fire hose.

That episode oc­curred in Au­gust 2014. Elferink had said at the time that the boys were try­ing to es­cape from the cen­tre and were armed with metal bars and glass from bro­ken win­dows. But the video shows some of them playing cards when the tear-gassing be­gins, and the en­tire episode ap­pears to have taken place within a se­cure area.

Jared Sharp, a lawyer with the North Aus­tralian Abo­rig­i­nal Jus­tice Agency, said there had been “a de­lib­er­ate ef­fort to mis­lead the pub­lic about what had oc­curred.”

Elaine Pear­son, di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch Aus­tralia, said that an in­de­pen­dent North­ern Ter­ri­tory agency re­spon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing chil­dren had ex­posed abuses in the ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion sys­tem last year but that no ac­tion had been taken. “Ex­ces­sive force is an abuse, and the per­pe­tra­tors of such abuses should be held to ac­count,” Pear­son said. Later Tues­day, eight in­mates at a North­ern Ter­ri­tory cor­rec­tional fa­cil­ity, the Alice Springs Adult Prison, climbed onto the prison’s roof to protest the treat­ment of ju­ve­nile de­tainees, ac­cord­ing to a spokesper­son for the po­lice in Alice Springs, which is about 930 miles south of Dar­win by road. A po­lice ne­go­tia­tor had been called to speak with the pris­on­ers, a spokesper­son for the North­ern Ter­ri­tory Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices De­part­ment said. He said that the in­mates were un­armed and that no one had been in­jured.

Ninety-eight per cent of ju­ve­nile de­tainees in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory are Abo­rig­i­nal, ac­cord­ing to the Law Coun­cil of Aus­tralia. John B. Lawrence, a lawyer who has writ­ten re­ports on ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion in the ter­ri­tory, said that Abo­rig­i­nals were im­pris­oned there at a much higher rate than the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion and that the im­pris­on­ment of ju­ve­niles, of­ten for petty of­fenses, had “gone through the roof.”

“It is a bad sit­u­a­tion, and it is get­ting worse,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said im­ages in the “Four Corners” re­port of a 17-yearold boy shack­led to a chair and forced to wear a hood were par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing. “You are look­ing at a child,” Lawrence said by tele­phone from Dar­win. “He has been set upon by a num­ber of fully grown, large guards, and strapped in this chair. He’s tied up, mana­cled and left there for hours. It takes you to a whole other dystopia.”

Turn­bull said that the pub­lic in­quiry, which is likely to be led by a for­mer judge, would be held in con­junc­tion with the North­ern Ter­ri­tory gov­ern­ment. “We want to know why there were in­quiries into this cen­tre which did not turn up the ev­i­dence and the in­for­ma­tion we saw on ‘Four Corners,’ ” Turn­bull said.

But Lawrence said that it was im­por­tant that the royal com­mis­sion be fiercely in­de­pen­dent. “The only in­volve­ment the North­ern Ter­ri­tory gov­ern­ment should have is as wit­nesses,” he said.

He’s tied up, mana­cled and left there for hours. It takes you to a whole other dystopia JARED SHARP LAWYER WITH THE NORTH AUS­TRALIAN ABO­RIG­I­NAL JUS­TICE AGENCY

AUS­TRALIAN BROAD­CAST­ING CORPS FO/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

This frame grab from Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion’s (ABC) “Four Corners” al­legedly shows a teenage boy hooded and strapped into a chair at a youth de­ten­tion cen­tre in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory city of Dar­win in Aus­tralia.

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