Don Dale Youth Detention Centre

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Don Dale Youth Detention Centre
BerrimahPrison Nov2008.png
LocationBerrimah, Northern Territory
Coordinates12°26′45″S 130°56′26″E / 12.445775°S 130.940616°E / -12.445775; 130.940616Coordinates: 12°26′45″S 130°56′26″E / 12.445775°S 130.940616°E / -12.445775; 130.940616
Security classMaximum, for juvenile[1] males and females
OpenedNovember 1991[1]
Managed byNorthern 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.

Original facilities[edit]

2008 photograph of prison site.

The Don Dale Youth 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.[2] In the early 2000s all detainees at Don Dale were expected to attend school unless they were involved in vocational programs.[2]


The facility is as of October 2019 administered by Territory Families, since a departmental reorganisation following the Labor victory at the August 2016 Northern Territory general election.[3]

21st century timeline[edit]

2000: Death in Custody[edit]

In February 2000, 16-year-old Aboriginal boy named Johnno Johnson Wurramarrba from Groote Eylandt committed suicide at Don Dale. Wurramarrba had been sentenced in January to 28 days detention under the Northern Territory's mandatory sentencing laws for stealing petrol 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.[4]

In 2011, Xzibit, a US rapper, visited the centre and talked to inmates about his life experiences, following being detained in a juvenile detention centre as a 14-year-old.[5]

2014: Use of tear gas, relocation[edit]

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.[6][7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10] The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency remained critical of conditions at the new site.[11]

July 2016: Four Corners program[edit]

Use of restraint chairs and cable ties on children was expressly legalised by the Northern Territory Government in May 2016[12] and were used at facilities in both Darwin and Alice Springs.[13]

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.[7] 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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] Use of restraint chairs and spit hoods were then suspended.[18]

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 (31 mi) south of Darwin. The Wickham Point Detention Centre has been deemed by the Australian Human Rights Commission to be "completely inappropriate for children".[19] 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”.[20]

August 2016: Royal Commission[edit]

The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory was established on 1 August 2016. While the commission was expected to report by 31 March 2017, the final reporting date was extended three times due to the extent of documentary evidence and witnesses, to 17 November 2017.[21] The report made more than 200 recommendations including the closure of the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.[22]

2017 onwards[edit]

In April 2018, the Northern Territory Government announced it would commit A$71.4 million to build new youth detention centres in Darwin and Alice Springs as part of a $229.6 million package to overhaul the child protection and youth justice systems and implement the recommendations of the royal commission.[23][24]

By November 2018 the facility was still in use. It was then revealed in Northern Territory Parliament that female detainees were being forced to shower while under video surveillance.[25]

On 6 November 2018, a major disturbance broke out at Don Dale.[26] Detainees escaped from their cells by stealing keys and attempted to break out of the facility using power tools. The school room at the facility was burnt and tear gas was used. The detainees were moved from the damaged detention centre to the Darwin watch house.[27]

In May 2019 it was reported that every single child in detention in the Northern Territory – 22 boys and 2 girls – was Aboriginal, with 11 of them in Don Dale. Territory Families said it was still “not ready" to implement some of the key recommendations of the Royal Commission. The age of criminal responsibility had still not been raised to 12, nor the age of detention to 14 years old.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Comparative Youth Penality Project (CYPP): Major themes by decade". Australian Prisons Project. University of New South Wales. 2010. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre (1991 - )". Find & Connect. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  3. ^ "Northern Territory Correctional Services and Youth Justice Annual Statistics: 2015-2016" (pdf): 1. Retrieved 8 October 2019. Prior to the August 2016 Northern Territory general election, the Northern Territory Department of Correctional Services (NTDCS) supervised both adults and youth who were subject to imprisonment/detention or community-based orders. Following the election, adult correctional services became a part of the Department of the Attorney-General and Justice, and youth justice services became part of Territory Families Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ "Findings in the death of Johnno Johnson Wurramarrba [2001] NTMC 84" (PDF). Department of the Attorney-General and Justice. Retrieved 29 July 2016.
  5. ^ Mosley, Lisa (15 December 2011). "Rapper spreads hip-hop hope to troubled youths". ABC News. Australia. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  6. ^ Jones, Ruby (22 August 2014). "Teens tear-gassed in clash at Darwin's Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre". ABC News. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  7. ^ a b Caro Meldrum-Hanna; Elise Worthington. "Evidence of 'torture' of children held in Don Dale detention centre uncovered by Four Corners". Four Corners. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Gywnne, Colleen (20 August 2015). "OWN INITIATIVE INVESTIGATION REPORT SERVICES PROVIDED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES AT THE DON DALE YOUTH DETENTION CENTRE" (PDF). The Children's Commissioner Northern Territory. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 October 2016. Retrieved 29 July 2016.
  10. ^ Purtill, James (25 August 2014). "Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre to shut within days after tear gas riot". ABC News. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  11. ^ Purtill, James (16 January 2015). "Tour of refurbished Don Dale juvenile prison fails to sway NT Aboriginal justice agency". ABC News. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  12. ^ Oaten, James (26 May 2016). "Restraint chairs with cable ties approved for youths in NT". ABC News. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  13. ^ Wild, Kate (12 November 2015). "Teen hooded and strapped to chair for two hours while in juvenile custody in Northern Territory". ABC News. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  14. ^ Doran, Matthew; Anderson, Stephanie. "Royal commission into NT youth detention to investigate possible human rights breaches". ABC News. Retrieved 29 July 2016.
  15. ^ "UN 'shocked' at Don Dale inmate abuse". Sky News. 30 July 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  16. ^ Hunter, Fergus (27 July 2016). "Malcolm Turnbull calls royal commission into youth abuse at Northern Territory's Don Dale detention centre". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  17. ^ "John Elferink sacked from Corrections in wake of Four Corners report; Adam Giles alleges culture of cover-up". ABC News. 26 July 2016. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  18. ^ Davidson, Helen (28 July 2016). "Northern Territory halts use of restraint chairs and spithoods in youth detention". Guardian Australia. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  19. ^ Murphy, Damien (28 July 2016). "Teenagers and young boys to be moved from Don Dale Detention Centre to former immigration centre, 50km away". The Age. Retrieved 29 July 2016.
  20. ^ "NT Government backflips on Don Dale Youth Detention centre plans within 24 hours". 29 July 2016. Retrieved 29 July 2016.
  21. ^ "The Report of the Royal Commission and Board of Inquiry into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory" (PDF). Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  22. ^ "ROYAL COMMISSION AND BOARD OF INQUIRY INTO THE PROTECTION AND DETENTION OF CHILDREN IN THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: Findings and Recommendations" (PDF). Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  23. ^ "NT royal commission: 'Record investment' to reform 'broken' NT child protection and youth justice system". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC. 20 April 2018. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  24. ^ "Don Dale youth detention centre set on fire in major disturbance". The Guardian. Australian Associated Press. 7 November 2018. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  25. ^ Sorenson, Hayley (1 November 2018). "Teenage girls at Don Dale forced to shower while under constant surveillance, Parliament hears". NT News. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  26. ^ "Don Dale youth detention centre building on fire during major disturbance". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC News. 7 November 2018. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  27. ^ "Don Dale Youth Detention Centre detainees try to escape using power tools, police deploy tear gas". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC News. 7 November 2018. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  28. ^ Allam, Lorena (31 May 2019). "'System is broken': all children in NT detention are Aboriginal, officials say". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 October 2019.

External links[edit]