Fresh calls to close Don Dale after lat­est vi­o­lent in­ci­dent

The Guardian Australia - - News - Lorena Al­lam and He­len David­son

An­other vi­o­lent in­ci­dent at the Don Dale de­ten­tion cen­tre has sparked wide­spread crit­i­cism of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory govern­ment for con­tin­u­ing to op­er­ate the ma­ligned fa­cil­ity, a year after the royal com­mis­sion called for its clo­sure.

The NT govern­ment said on Wed­nes­day it couldn’t guar­an­tee there wouldn’t be a re­peat of the pre­vi­ous night, after young de­tainees al­legedly at­tacked a staff mem­ber, stole keys and burned down the fa­cil­ity’s school room.

It was the se­cond time in three weeks that young de­tainees had stolen keys and caused dam­age, and was the lat­est in a long line of vi­o­lence at the cen­tre in re­cent years.

All 25 young peo­ple are now be­ing held in the Dar­win po­lice watch house, and their lawyers are ap­ply­ing for im­me­di­ate bail, say­ing it is an un­safe en­vi­ron­ment, the ABC re­ported.

Re­ports that the cen­tre has been closed in­def­i­nitely were in­cor­rect, Guardian Aus­tralia has con­firmed, and it’s un­der­stood po­lice are likely to re­turn the un­burned ma­jor­ity of the cen­tre to the con­trol of Ter­ri­tory Fam­i­lies once in­spec­tions are com­pleted.

NT bar­ris­ter, John Lawrence SC – a for­mer crown pros­e­cu­tor who also worked for Abo­rig­i­nal le­gal ser­vices, and is a for­mer di­rec­tor of the Law Coun­cil of Aus­tralia and the NT Bar as­so­ci­a­tion – rep­re­sented one of the fam­i­lies in­volved in the royal com­mis­sion.

Lawrence said he’s not sur­prised the chil­dren ap­peared to be try­ing to “burn Don Dale down”.

“I don’t think there is any­thing other than the bleed­ing ob­vi­ous. It’s not a proper place for a hu­man be­ing to be.”

Don Dale is a re­tired adult prison, widely ac­knowl­edged to be un­suit­able for chil­dren, and a chief rec­om­men­da­tion of the royal com­mis­sion into the pro­tec­tion and de­ten­tion of chil­dren in the NT was to close it down as soon as pos­si­ble.

How­ever con­struc­tion of its pro­posed $70m re­place­ment is not sched­uled to be­gin un­til the mid­dle of next year.

“There shouldn’t be any chil­dren in an ad­vanced coun­try in­terned in a con­demned derelict for­mer adult male jail, and yet that’s what has been go­ing on since 2014,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said it was “ob­vi­ous” the only rea­son it oc­curred in Aus­tralia was be­cause the de­tainees were Abo­rig­i­nal.

“Be­cause there’s no way in the world white chil­dren would be kept in a con­demned for­mer adult jail. That’s re­al­ity.”

The Hu­man Rights Law Cen­tre said the NT govern­ment had been “all words and lit­tle ac­tion” after agree­ing to all 226 royal com­mis­sion rec­om­men­da­tions.

“We keep get­ting told that things are im­prov­ing at Don Dale – we are ei­ther be­ing lied to, or au­thor­i­ties don’t ac­tu­ally un­der­stand what is go­ing on there,” said Amnesty In­ter­na­tional Aus­tralia’s Rod­ney Dil­lon.

The general man­ager of youth jus­tice for the Ter­ri­tory Fam­i­lies de­part­ment, Brent War­ren, told me­dia in Dar­win on Wed­nes­day there had been “sig­nif­i­cant fo­cus on mak­ing the [Don Dale] fa­cil­ity as good as it can be”, in­creas­ing train­ing and staff num­bers, and mak­ing struc­tural im­prove­ments to the cen­tre.

“Ter­ri­tory Fam­i­lies has in­her­ited a re­tired adult prison, which was re­tired a num­ber of years ago, and we’re try­ing to make do with what we’ve got.”

He said there were fewer de­tainees than be­fore, but the co­hort is “com­plex”.

Colleen Gwynne, the NT Chil­dren’s Com­mis­sioner, told the Aus­tralian she had viewed CCTV footage and the ini­tial as­sault was ex­tremely vi­o­lent and pre­med­i­tated.

Around half the youths sur­ren­dered to po­lice within two hours, but of­fi­cers deployed tear gas to dis­perse oth­ers who al­legedly gained ac­cess to build­ing equip­ment and used an an­gle grinder in an at­tempt to cut through an outer perime­ter fence.

The royal com­mis­sion rec­om­mended tear gas be banned in­side ju­ve­nile fa­cil­i­ties.

War­ren said Ter­ri­tory Fam­i­lies had ended its use in day to day op­er­a­tions, and NT Po­lice com­man­der Matt Hol­lamby said it was used “from a dis­tance” on Tues­day night.

“It was a very dy­namic sit­u­a­tion, the de­ci­sion was made at the time to pre­vent the youth from es­cap­ing and in real terms to min­imise the need to use force on es­cap­ing de­tainees.”

The Strong Grand­moth­ers of the Cen­tral Desert, a group of se­nior Indigenous women cam­paign­ing against child re­movals and for greater Indigenous in­volve­ment in ad­dress­ing so­cial is­sues, laid blame with Ter­ri­tory Fam­i­lies and its min­is­ter, Dale Wakefield.

“There is a duty of care,” said the group.

“Those kids have been moved to the watch house which is not fit for chil­dren. We need to know if the kids are OK. Who’s look­ing after their safety and well­be­ing in the cells now?”

Dy­lan Voller, a for­mer longterm de­tainee at Don Dale who was awarded com­pen­sa­tion from the NT govern­ment by the Supreme Court for his treat­ment, said the re­cent be­hav­iour of those now in­side was a “cry for help”.

“Kids don’t act up for noth­ing – they act up when they are scared and they can’t be heard,” he said.

Gerry Ge­or­gatos, sui­cide pre­ven­tion re­searcher, said Don Dale housed some of Aus­tralia’s most vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren, but didn’t ad­e­quately sup­port them.

“They need val­i­da­tion and trauma re­cov­ery rather than be­ing hit with com­pound­ing trauma where their dis­tress or aber­rant be­hav­iour – cries for help – are re­sponded to with abom­inable mal­treat­ment and abuses such as be­ing locked down, caged, for 15 hours a day, day after day.”

The NT po­lice as­so­ci­a­tion ac­cused Ter­ri­tory Fam­i­lies of putting its of­fi­cers in dan­ger, and the pub­lic ser­vice union crit­i­cised the de­ci­sion to keep build­ing equip­ment and an­gle grinders in a room ac­ces­si­ble with keys.

Two in­de­pen­dent MPs, both of whom were for­mer Coun­try Lib­eral party mem­bers, called for youth jus­tice to be handed back to Cor­rec­tions, for new fa­cil­i­ties to be built away from res­i­den­tial ar­eas, and for a “bal­anced tough love” ap­proach.

The Ter­ri­tory Fam­i­lies de­part­ment took con­trol of youth jus­tice from the Cor­rec­tions de­part­ment in 2016.

“Any­thing less than a tough re­sponse will be viewed with con­tempt by young tough of­fend­ers,” said Robyn Lam­b­ley and Terry Mills.

Lawrence re­jected calls for more “tough on crime” ac­tion around youth jus­tice and crime is­sues in the NT.

“These shal­low in­ter­pre­ta­tions are po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, they don’t bear scru­tiny and quite frankly they’re bor­ing,” he said.

“It’s about time we moved on to some­thing that is intelligent, ef­fec­tive and less costly.”

Pho­to­graph: Glenn Camp­bell/AAP

Vi­o­lence broke out at Don Dale Den­ten­tion Cen­tre in Dar­win a year after the royal com­mis­sion rec­om­mended it be closed.

Pho­to­graph: Joel Car­rett/AAP

“Kids don’t act up for noth­ing,” said for­merDon Dale de­tainee Dy­lan Voller.

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