Don Dale Youth Detention Centre
|Location||Berrimah, Northern Territory|
|Security class||Maximum, for juvenile males and females|
|Managed by||Northern Territory Correctional Services|
The Don Dale Youth Detention Centre is a facility for juvenile detention in the Northern Territory, Australia, located in Berrimah, east of Darwin. It is a maximum security prison for male and female juvenile delinquents. The facility is named after Don Dale, a former Member of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly from 1983 to 1989 and one-time Minister for Correctional Services.
On 25 July 2016, the ABC broadcast a Four Corners report that disclosed the abuse of youths in the Northern Territory corrections system which triggered the Royal Commission into Juvenile Detention in the Northern Territory.
The Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre was the Northern Territory's first purpose-built institution for young male and female offenders from across the Northern Territory aged from 10 to 16 years. Built in 1991, it was originally located adjacent to Berrimah Prison. The facility replaced Malak House, which had operated as a detention centre since 1987. Don Dale provided medium to high level detention, usually in single cells. In the early 2000s all detainees at Don Dale were expected to attend school unless they were involved in vocational programs.
Death in Custody
A 16-year-old Aboriginal boy named Johnno Johnson Wurramarrba from Groote Eylandt committed suicide at Don Dale in February 2000. In January, Wurramarrba was sentenced to 28 days detention under the Northern Territory's mandatory sentencing laws for stealing oil and paint from Angurugu School on Groote Eylandt. A Coronial Inquiry into the circumstances of the death resulted in a number of recommendations being made relating to training of staff and management practices in the centre.
Use of tear gas
In August 2014, six boys were in solitary confinement cells in the Behavioural Management Unit. One boy walked out of an unlocked cell, and beat on a locked reinforced door. The staff declared that there was a "riot", and released tear gas into the hallway, gassing all six boys. It took up to eight minutes to remove the boys in their cells from the tear gas. A news release to the media falsely asserted that six boys had escaped from their cells, despite CCTV in the hallway showing only one boy in the hallway. The incident, among others, was investigated by the Northern Territory Children's Commissioner Colleen Gywnne in a report provided in August 2015 to the then Corrections Minister John Elferink.
Relocation to Berrimah Prison
Following the tear gas incident, the youths were moved from Malak House to formerly adult Berrimah Prison and Malak House was closed. In September 2014, the prison was renamed Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency remained critical of conditions at the new site.
Four Corners program
Graphic footage of repeated abuse of children at Don Dale, including the 2014 tear gas incident, was featured in ABC's Four Corners episode "Australia's Shame", which aired on 25 July 2016. Later in the year the documentary was televised worldwide. Teenage boys were shown being assaulted, stripped naked and tear-gassed. They were being held in isolation up to 72 hours with no running water. The program also showed a 17-year-old boy shackled and hooded in a chair at a facility in Alice Springs. The Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was "shocked" at the "appalling treatment" of the detainees, which violates the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, to which Australia is party. Global broadcast of the documentary caused worldwide astonishment about the inadequate actions of the minister.
Following national outrage, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a Royal Commission into Juvenile Detention in the Northern Territory. John Elferink was sacked as Corrections Minister the morning after the program aired. The corrections and justice portfolios were taken on by Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles. Use of restraint chairs and spithoods were then suspended.
On 28 July 2016, it was announced that the 33 youths incarcerated in the centre were to be moved to the Wickham Point Detention Centre, a former immigration detention centre, located around 50 kilometres south of Darwin. The Wickham Point Detention Centre has been deemed by the Australian Human Rights Commission to be "completely inappropriate for children". Within 24 hours the decision to close the centre and relocate the detainees "had been scrapped for the time being", with Chief Minister Giles saying that the facilities at Don Dale were “good enough”.
Chief Minister Giles may have been wrong with recent media investigations (ABC news March 20th, 2017) showing systemic sexual abuse of children of both genders, systemic abuse by guards, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse; and a lack of governance oversight that ensured a permissive culture of guard entitlement to treat vulnerable children as play toys for their own gratification.
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