Australia’s Shame – ABC News


Monday 25 July 2016 – ‘Australia’s Shame’

Sarah Ferguson: Welcome to Four Corners.

The image you have just seen isn’t from Guantanamo bay…. or Abu Ghraib.. but Australia in 2015… A boy, hooded, shackled, strapped to a chair and left alone. It is barbaric.

This is juvenile justice in the Northern Territory, a system that punishes troubled children instead of rehabilitating them – where children as young as 10 are locked up and 13 year olds are kept in solitary confinement.

Most of the images secured by Four Corners in this investigation have never been seen publicly. They are shocking – but for the sake of these children who are desperate for the truth to be known, we cannot look away.

Caro Meldrum Hanna reports.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: It’s August 2014.

Inside the Don Dale youth detention centre…behind this grey door…six boys are being held in the isolation wing.

As evening approaches…inside the Behavioural Management Unit…

A 14 year old boy is trying to get out of his tiny concrete cell.

For 36 minutes CCTV records the boy, using a broken light fitting…trying again and again to open the door.

One of the guards on duty this afternoon…has forgotten to lock it.

The boy has been kept in solitary confinement …for 23 and a half hours a day…for 15 days straight.

He’s lost all sense of time.

And he’s deeply distressed.

Boy E: I’ve been in the back cells for how long bruz?!

Officer: Have you had time out or not?

Boy E: Yeah but I’ve been fuckin’ stuck in there for how long?!

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The boy’s been asking the guards – repeatedly, for weeks – why he’s being kept in solitary confinement…

And when he’s going to be released from his dark, hot, stinking cell.

Officer: That doors not going to hold.

Officer: He’s supposed to be getting out next week.

Officer: Yeah.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: On the other side of the reinforced door…

A group of prison officers is at the ready.

Officer: Fuckin’ idiot.

Officer: He’s an idiot bro.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The officers on duty tonight are heard laughing at the boy’s anguish.

Officer: I hope it’s recording?

Officer: Yeah it is recording, it says record.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The boy has been pushed to breaking point.

He and five others, aged between 14 and 17 locked in the cells behind him…have been deprived of the most basic human necessities, no natural light, kept in appalling conditions.

CCTV obtained by Four Corners shows some of the boys literally climbing the walls…repeatedly carving their names into the concrete…in some cells, two boys crammed in…unable to walk around at all.

Jared Sharp, Lawyer, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency: Those cells were ghoulish, they were something medieval.

Dr Howard Bath, former NT Children’s Commissioner: They were kept in those cells for up to twenty-four hours a day.

Peter O’Brien, Solicitor: They had no running water, the only water in the cell was in the toilet.

Jared Sharp: So they couldn’t even wash their hands, they had to request water. They had to eat food with their hands.

Dr Howard Bath: Extremely hot conditions um. No air-conditioning, no fans, no direct breeze flowing into that unit.

Peter O’Brien: Reeked of urine and shit.

Dr Howard Bath: You know even the staff were referring to them as revolting conditions.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna, Reporter: How were they? How how were the boys in there?

Jared Sharp: Um.

Peter O’Brien: I mean it must have been sheer hell, sheer hell.

Boy E: Fuck you! Fuck!

Officer: If he tries to get in, poke him back through.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Protesting against his confinement…the frustrated child starts ramming doors and smashing windows…

While five boys watch from inside their cells.

How prison management responded beggars belief.

Officer: Go, go grab the fuckin’ gas and fuckin’ gas them through fuckin’, get Jimmy to gas them through here.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: This is the sound of six children being tear-gassed at close range.

Boy E: I can’t fuckin’ breathe.

Officer: Now he’s shitting himself.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Gassed for up to 8 minutes…

The boys are shackled, dragged outside and sprayed with a fire hose.

Boy E: Nah, don’t put it in my mouth, I can’t breathe!

Boy: Hey, we didn’t do anything in there.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: A few hours later … Don Dale management told police that multiple boys had escaped from their cells…and armed themselves with weapons.

Portraying the incident to the media, as a violent riot.

ABC News Report, 24 August 2014: Six prisoners young men between 14 and 17 years old escaped their cells and armed themselves with glass from smashed windows and broken light fittings.

Minister John Elferink, Minister for Correctional Services: When kids arms themselves with broken glass, when kids arm themselves with metal bars, then reasonable force has be brought to bear upon them to subdue them.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Prison authorities weren’t telling the truth.

Jared Sharp: One of those aspects of this issue that’s the most concerning is that there was a deliberate effort to misinform the public about what occurred.

Dr Howard Bath: There wasn’t a riot. A riot is an un- unlawful assembly. Only one young person was assembled. He was outside of his cell but he was still in a secure area.

Peter O’Brien: So he let loose, it was one boy carrying on in a manner of expression that he had and that was it, that is all he had, it was not a riot.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: This is the boy that got out of his cell…and led the so-called riot.

His name is Jake Roper.

He’s bravely decided to go public, and tell his side of the story.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Hey Jake, Caro, nice to meet you.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Why have you decided to speak up about what happened?

Jake Roper: Just tellin’ the truth and what really happened and yeah make sure it doesn’t happen to any other young people. I was getting treated like an animal basically because of all the stuff they did to me.

Jake Roper hasn’t been able to forget his time in solitary…in Don Dale.

Jake Roper: This is the size of my cell I was staying in.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Now 16, he’s haunted by disturbing memories…

Jake Roper: Well I get flashbacks sometimes, just couldn’t believe it was this small.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: How did it feel being in a very small space?

Jake Roper: It was tempting to do stuff because I had a lot of stuff on my mind. Like I felt angry at some times, I felt depressed at some times, I felt alone and yeah…

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: In June 2014…Jake Roper was in Don Dale for the first time in his life…for stealing a car when he was homeless.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: When you went to Don Dale, did you know what to expect?

Jake Roper: No not really

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Were you scared?

Jake Roper: Yeah

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What were you scared of?

Jake Roper: Um Just what other people tell me about what Don Dale was like. Um how the guards treat them. Yeah.

Jake Roper escaped from Don Dale. Recaptured and returned, he was placed in the isolation unit along with four other escapees.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: One of them, was 16 year old Ethan Austral.

Ethan Austral: Like sometimes when I wake up I’d be there in the same spot.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Ethan Austral has been in and out of Don Dale since he was just 11 years old…for a series of break and enters and car thefts. He’s spent six of his past seven birthdays behind bars.

He’s now recovering at Bush Mob in Alice Springs…a treatment facility for at-risk kids.

We spoke to him over Skype.

Ethan Austral: Waking up in that cell was shit. We was going mad, been kept in there for too long.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Are these kids bad?

Sue Oliver, Managing Judge, Youth Justice Court: There are kids that do bad things, really bad things, but the idea that a young person is a bad person I think it a very misplaced view of young people.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Well if they aren’t bad kids, bad people what are they?

Judge Sue Oliver: They’re very damaged. They’re very damaged children.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Tonight, Judge Sue Oliver is breaking ranks.

Speaking out against the harsh treatment of children in detention in the Northern Territory.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Do you ever worry about a young person when you send them off to Don Dale?

Judge Sue Oliver: Yes I do, I do. Of course I do.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What do you worry about?

Judge Sue Oliver: I worry about how that’s going to affect them. I worry that it’s not solving the problem.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Kenny Rogan was 10 years old when he first went to prison…after his 21 year old friend made him to set fire to a motorbike.

When Kenny Rogan arrived at Don Dale, he says he was dragged into his cell by his underwear…and threatened by one of the guards.

Kenny Rogan: He told me there were rapists in there and he’ll put me in a call with them if I don’t keep in line.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: When your son returned that first time from Don Dale, had he changed?

Colin Rogan: Yes definitely, he seemed a lot more quieter not as happy and his demeanour changed. Very withdrawn, didn’t want to talk, lost a lot of weight, yeah I was not happy to see him in that condition.

John B. Lawrence: What’s going on with children in detention here is a deliberate punitive cruel policy, prosecuted by the Minister responsible and his cohorts, no doubt, and supported by his political advisors. So it’s not an accident, it’s not inadvertence, eh it- it’s not indifference, it’s a deliberate policy that has led to the catastrophe which is occurring behind walls as you interview me now.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The Minister responsible…is Minister John Elferink.

Minister John Elferink: I am the Minister for Corrections not the Minister for kicking the shit out of people. And hopefully we can actually create an environment that actually corrects. There you go. You want a ride back into town now or what?

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: I have my own ride thanks, thankyou very much, Minister.

Minister John Elferink: I thought you wanted to have a go on a bike that’s all.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The Harley Davidson riding Corrections Minister took us inside the children’s prison…

Firstly, to the old Don Dale.

Minister John Elferink: Please come through. I just wanted to show you a couple of things. It smells like something’s been burning in here.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: It does.

Minister John Elferink: And this of course is one of the rooms you’re interested in.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: This is the BMU?

Minister John Elferink: We get these kids ah in these environments and they come to us fundamentally pre-broken by choice, by dint of their socioeconomic circumstances, their families, whatever.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Now derelict… This is where six boys were tear gassed in August 2014.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: This is a site of great controversy, this one?

Minister John Elferink: Ah yes.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Ah how do you view this area?

Minister John Elferink: I don’t like it. I don’t like this area. I don’t particularly like prisons at all.

Um I would like to live in a world where prisons weren’t necessary, but unfortunately they are a real necessity in the modern world.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Have you ever seen anything like what you saw?

Jared Sharp: I’ve never seen a thing like that.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The horrors of Don Dale came to light in August 2014…just before the so- called riot when solicitor Jared Sharp was taken on a tour of the prison by the Department of Corrections.

He was taken back here…behind this door…to the usually off-limits high security section.

This is where children who misbehaved were being taken…to teach them a lesson.

Jared Sharp: We all sort of looked at each other in shock that there was kids in these cells um because there was signs of life in there um but we didn’t know who was in there or what was happening, or how long they’d been there.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Six boys were being caged like animals, never allowed outdoors, with no school, no television… dehydrated with no running water.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: To what end, to what extreme, what scale is that sort of deprivation?

Jared Sharp: To what extreme is that? Is to my view, is torture.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Jared Sharp blew the whistle…reporting the ongoing abuse to the then Children’s Commissioner, Dr Howard Bath.

Dr Howard Bath: It’s brutalising treatment um. Depending on how you define torture if you include extended periods of isolation and seclusion um as a torture I think you could define as what I’ve seen happening in the Youth Justice facilities as torture.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Dr Bath launched an immediate investigation.

Dr Howard Bath: Tensions were building up. Ah the the young people were saying themselves how long am I going to be here? They weren’t given clear answers on how long they were going to be in confinement. Even the staff were saying things like we’ve got to move on from this, we’ve got to move the kids out of these inhumane conditions, even the staff were saying that.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: This is the Behavioural Management Unit known at the time as the BMU. And this is where it all happened. Being here makes it all very real, and I’ll tell you why. Because it is tiny. I can walk from the back of this cell, 3 and half steps to the door and one and a half, if that, across. At the time all six boys were in here, it stank of urine and excrement. It is hot and it is dark. There is minimal natural light. There is also no running water. I cannot imagine as an adult being kept in here for weeks on end.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Four Corners has learnt…the children were being cared for….

By a core group of prison officers, highly trained in professional fighting.

The referee?

Don Dale’s second in charge…

The assistant general manager Jimmy Sizeland.

One of the boys in the guards care….was Dylan Voller…

A troubled boy with behavioural problems, Dylan Voller has been in and out of juvenile detention since he was 11 years old.

For car theft, robberies and, more recently, assault. He’s one of the Northern Territory’s most notorious young offenders.

But he himself is a victim and there’s a lot the public doesn’t know about the plight of Dylan Voller.

Peter O’Brien: He has been the victim of institutionalisation no doubt.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What has happened to him in Don Dale?

Peter O’Brien: His ability to really use words in a cutting manner has meant that he has been the subject of a great deal of reala- real physical attention, threats at the hands of the staff members of that place.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Dylan Voller’s story is like no other.

Four Corners has obtained a chilling catalogue of videos, images you were never meant to see, recording shocking mistreatment, sustained by Dylan Voller over five years.

Starting in October 2010 inside Don Dale’s Behavioural Management Unit, the BMU.

In this never before seen video…13 year old Dylan Voller enters.

Words are exchanged.

With no one else around… Dylan Voller is tackled, lifted and held high in the air, before being hurled across the room

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Two months later…in the Alice Springs children’s prison…

An agitated Dylan Voller is seen pacing his tiny cell. He’s threatened self-harm.

Leaning against the wall, he’s playing with a pack of cards.

Watch what three guards do to him next.

Peter O’Brien: No matter what the reason for them coming into that room and for no- no matter what the reason for them wanting him to take off his clothes or be naked or what- whatever the hell they were doing what on earth do you think was going through that kid’s mind? That kid at that time who is a- has his, his bare naked buttocks exposed and in a manner where he’s being held down in such a- in such an intimidating and brutal fashion, one can only think.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: And after Dylan Voller was stripped naked and he was in his gown what do you see that young boy doing?

Dr Howard Bath: I see someone in great distress.

Dr Howard Bath: I found that a humiliating procedure and if it wasn’t so tragic it would be farcical because it’s actually called the at-risk procedure. It is used when a child is considered to be at risk of suicide for instance um. I cannot see how traumatising a young person like that can be in any way therapeutic.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: In 2011…again in Alice Springs…

Another incident. This one, the most brazen of all…with multiple witnesses…including other child detainees.

Dylan Voller is making a telephone call.

When the guard motions for the boy to hand the phone over, he leans away.

Watch how Dylan Voller is punished.

Kneed, then knocked to the floor.

Six months later…Dylan Voller, now 14, is pacing another tiny cell…he’s in isolation again.

Crying into his singlet…three guards enter.

Throw him to the floor…and forcefully strip him naked.

In 2012…at Don Dale…

Dylan Voller is held face down for three minutes in a hog-tie position…as guards strip his cell…the officer is recorded straddling the child…Then…he applies his full bodyweight with both knees on the child’s back.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What sort of Youth Justice system is that?

Dr Howard Bath: Well it’s certainly one that is absolutely failing and it’s ending up re-abusing young people.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: In 2012, Dr Howard bath investigated, writing a confidential report.

It details the prolonged mistreatment of Dylan Voller.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The report has never been made public and Dr Bath is legally unable to disclose the details.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: So the authorities knew as early as 2012 the authorities the Government knew of excessive force, inappropriate solitary confinement of children in detention?

Dr Howard Bath: Yes.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: And nothing was done?

Dr Howard Bath: As far as I know nothing was done.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Well how do you respond to that?

Dr Howard Bath: Well I find that appalling um.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Ethan Austral is one of several boys who’ve told us that Dylan Voller – a known spitter with a bad mouth – has continued to be targeted by guards inside Don Dale.

Ethan Austral: They wanted me to bash Dylan. I said no that’s my mate and they left me alone.

Ethan Austral: They got other detainees to throw hot water on Dylan and spit at him when he was down in the BMU.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: So the guards got other detainees, children to throw hot water?

Ethan Austral: Yeah. And spit at him.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: On the 16th of August 2014…Five days before the boys were tear gassed…

CCTV records youth justice officers entering the isolation unit.

One angry guard hurls a pear at Dylan Voller, who’s locked in his cell.

Attempts to conceal the camera with toilet paper …

Before telling Dylan Voller he plans to assault him on the outside.

Peter O’Brien: My client’s cowering on the bed, cowering on the bed, there’s no better description for it. He’s obviously sensing some form of attack or some form of assault, that is- appears to be in that image imminent.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: On the day of the tear gassing incident…Dylan Voller is still in isolation.

Two cells up…was Jake Roper.

Jake Roper: I was stressed out. I was stressing out a lot, just had a lot of stuff on my mind. It was getting too small for me. I just wanted to get out.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: How was Jake going?

Ethan Austral: Stressing. I’d hear him yelling every minute, punching on his door, yeah all those things.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What was he yelling about?

Ethan Austral: About being in there. I just remember him saying we’ve been here too long we just wanna go out there.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Under legislation in the Northern Territory, stays in solitary confinement are limited to a maximum of 72 hours per stint.

Come the 21st of August 2014…

The amount of time each child had spent in the isolation unit had reached extreme levels… more than 2,000 hours between them.

Making their confinement potentially unlawful.

Jared Sharp: To me it had all of the hall marks of a powder keg, it was ready for something to happen.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: And did it?

Jared Sharp: Yes, it did.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Jake Roper got out of his cell.

But he was still locked inside the concrete exercise yard.

Running amok for 50 minutes…

Repeatedly trying to climb out of the isolation unit.

Officer: If he tries to get in, poke him back through.

Officer: No, let the fucker come through because while he’s comin’ through he’ll be off balance, I’ll pulverise, I’ll pulverise the little fucker. Oh shit, were recording hey.

Dr Howard Bath: We hear language that is incredibly disrespectful um. For example, let him come through he’ll off balance and I’ll pulverise the little fucker.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Do you know what that means, pulverise?

Jake Roper: No.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: It means he was going to destroy you with a lot of force. What do you think of that?

Jake Roper: I’ve got nothing to say.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: When Jake Roper threw a piece of aluminium through a window high above his line of sight…

It hit a guard who was standing on the other side of the wall, scratching his arm.

Officer: Cunt.

Officer: Did he get you.

Officer: Oh yeah.

Officer: Who the fuck did that.

Officer: Roper, he threw this fuckin’ steel thing out and fuckin’ got me on the arm. He tried to climb through the window and I poked him back through.

Officer: Go, go grab the fuckin’ gas and fuckin’ gas them through fuckin’, get Jimmy to gas them through here.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Soon…the prison riot squad arrived…plus a trained security dog…from the adult jail.

Officer: This dog is going in first.

Officer: Yep.

Officer: Dog strains at leash and barks.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Do you remember hearing the dog? Did that scare you?

Jake Roper: Yeah.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Why?

Jake Roper: Because I’ve seen what police dogs do to people.

Ethan Austral: That’s when Jake said, yeah I’m ready to stop I give up and then he climbed up on the wall near the broken window and he told them that and one of them was pushing him back in with the broom and saying this is your punishment and all that.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: This is your punishment?

Ethan Austral: Yeah.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Back inside…

Corrections Commissioner Ken Middlebrook was on the scene.

He can be heard approving the use of teargas.

Officer: How you going Ken?

Ken Middlebrook: Good mate.

Officer: Are you gassing the lot of them?

Ken Middlebrook: Hey.

Officer: Gas the lot of them?

Ken Middlebrook: Mate, I don’t mind how much chemical you use.

Officer: He’s coming this way.

Officer: Watch out, watch out.

Officer: Nah, they’re using chemicals.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The officers fire 10 separate bursts of tear gas at the boys.

Boy E: I can’t fuckin’ breathe.

Officer: Now he’s shitting himself.

Officer: Hmm.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: And there was laughter?

Peter O’Brien: They seemed to find some some comedy in that, some humour in it, ah, they- they, ah, really thought that they were going to be able to bring some pain upon him and that that was going to, make their day.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The air is misty, thick with tear gas.

Officer: Take him down! Don’t fuck with this bloke!

Officer: We gonna get cell 2 out.

Officer: We’re going to have to hurry.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Five boys remain locked in their cells.

Ethan Austral: Yeah it was noisy everywhere.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What noises?

Ethan Austral: The workers yelling, the keys rattling, us coughing, and the dog barking.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: When the gas came in did you know what it was?

Ethan Austral: Nah.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Ethan Austral says he tried to wash the gas off using the only water available: the toilet.

In cell 4, another two children – who weren’t involved in the disturbance at all – seen here, playing cards – are tear gassed.

Cameras record them fleeing to the back of their cell, cowering behind bed sheets.

Dr Howard Bath: They had absolutely nowhere to run and they were clearly terrified, were so terrified they thought they were gonna die. And they said their goodbyes to each other huddled behind a mattress at the back of their cell. Those children were afraid for their lives.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: One by one the boys are taken outside…

But Dylan Voller is left behind…for eight minutes he’s exposed to tear gas…cameras record him crying, doubled over the toilet …

Before lying face down waiting for the guards to return.

Officer: On your knees, on your knees.

Jimmy Sizeland: OK, start running water over him mate.

Jake Roper: I can’t breathe. Nah, don’t put it in my mouth, I can’t breathe.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Were you having trouble breathing?

Jake Roper: Yeah.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Did you tell them that?

Jake Roper; Yeah I was telling them but they was telling us to shut up.

Officer: On the ground, on the ground, don’t resist.

Officer: Get the water.

Officer: Lay down. Stay.

Officer: Don’t move bro.

Boy: Ow, my fuckin’ hand’s hurting bruz.

Boy: Fuck my arm, my arm mother fucker my arm.

Boy: Yeah, it’s on too tight, fuckin’ hell bro.

Boy: Hey, we didn’t do anything.

Officer: Just put it on there you’ll be alright.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The ordeal for the boys didn’t end here.

They were shackled and taken to the adult prison…wearing spit hoods on their heads.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What is a spit hood?

Jared Sharp: A spit hood is it’s a mask that fits over a person’s head um and that has some mesh on the front. It prevents a person from spitting because it covers the mouth area.

Dr Howard Bath: The immediate image that comes to my mind is Abu Ghraib. There was no need at all to be using these spit hoods that cover their entire heads.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What happened the next day?

Jake Roper: They moved me back to Don Dale because they told me that I was too young and got moved back to don dale.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The transfer of 14 year old Jake Roper, an underaged boy, to the adult prison was against the law.

CCTV shows Jake Roper – in a spit hood – being returned to Don Dale the next morning.

His feet are full of glass and his wrists are sore from the shackles.

He’s left alone…in isolation again.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: I’m sorry are we in Australia here?

Dr Howard Bath: It’s gut wrenching isn’t it.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Where else is this happening in the world where children are treated like this, vulnerable children?

Dr Howard Bath: Caro I would certainly say this I don’t believe it’s happening anywhere else in the developed world this sort of treatment of young people

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Have you seen that vision?

Minister John Elferink: Which vision’s that?

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The CCTV and handicam of what happened there?

Minister John Elferink: I saw it for the first time Thursday last week.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: I’m quite surprised to know that you…

Minister John Elferink: Well actually no hold…

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: haven’t watched…

Minister John Elferink: … actually I’ll rephrase that.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: that you haven’t watched all of this. It’s, it’s prob, probably one of the darkest moments in recent history in in terms of corrections here in the Territory.

Minister John Elferink: Oh there’s no doubt, it was no doubt a ah a demonstration to me that things needed to be attended to.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Did you see two boys in one cell who are confined and being sprayed running to…

Minister John Elferink: No I didn’t see it.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: … the back and cowering behind a sheet?

Minister John Elferink: I didn’t see that. If that’s on footage I didn’t see it.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Well did you see the excerpt where you hear the guards laughing and say I’ll pulverise the little fucker?

Minister John Elferink: No I did not see that.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Well it did happen.

Minister John Elferink: Well that demonstrates a lack of training. I can only respond to those things which demonstrably say, show that there’s a short coming in training. What I do know is that when matters come to me I make sure that they’re investigated in accordance with the laws of the Northern Territory.

Dr Howard Bath: I approached the Minister after these events of ah 2014 these events in August um with great concern about was happening in the Youth Justice sector and I called for a public inquiry into what was happening in Youth Justice um. I called for that privately and publically um.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: And what happened to that call?

Dr Howard Bath: Well the response of the Minister at that time is that there didn’t need to be ah ah an inquiry.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Instead…the government commissioned its own, independent report.

It found ‘poor supervision’, ‘immature responses by some staff’, ‘lack of training and experience’ and ‘sloppy security’ and an over reliance on confinement and isolation at Don Dale.

The current Children’s Commissioner, Colleen Gwynne, came to her own conclusions in her August 2015 report.

Colleen Gwynne, Children’s Commissioner for the Northern Territory: I covered it clearly in my recommendations is um I think there was very little guidance and leadership and and um the training was not targeted towards um good and responsible management of young people in detention.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What was it targeted towards?

Colleen Gwynne: Use of force. Yeah

Minister John Elferink: It was a system that needed improvement. It had, it was a system that ah had fundamental problems which is why I’ve worked so hard to improve it and it has been improved.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: In the wake of the tear gassing incident…after a superficial renovation…Minister Elferink moved the children here…to the old, asbestos ridden Berrimah jail for adults.

Despite the then Corrections Commissioner deeming it fit for one thing only: a bulldozer.

Since then, we’ve discovered….

The mistreatment of children has continued.

John B. Lawrence, Barrister: He tells me he was locked down in his cell for 23 hours a day, one hour a day to leave the cell into a little caged area.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: In June 2015 Barrister John Lawrence had a 15 year old client. The boy was being kept in solitary for weeks on end…

And was forced to eat his three daily meals with his bare hands.

John B. Lawrence: A bit like a dog or an animal of some sort. This is barbarism, this is inhumane, this is child abuse.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Is it getting better or is it getting worse? You’re at the coalface.

John B. Lawrence: It’s getting worse. The aboriginal imprisonment rate is double now than what it was when we had a royal commission of enquiry. The imprisonment rate of juveniles is going through the roof. It is it is heading towards catastrophe.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Tell me what it’s like in the new Don Dale which is the old Berrimah prison?

Kenny Rogan: Disgusting. When we first went there, there was blood on the walls, still snot, rest in peace signs, writing everywhere.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Kenny Rogan was incarcerated at the new Don Dale in January 2015. Where, he says, officers threw him to the ground – and cut his underwear off him with a knife.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What did you think when you saw that knife flick open?

Kenny Rogan: I thought it was going to cut me because one pull and it cut my shorts and underwear off.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Were you saying anything?

Kenny Rogan: No. I was just quiet ’cause I didn’t want them to do anything ’cause it was real dark down where they put me like way down the back.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Kenny Rogan says he was placed naked in a dark, cockroach infested cell.

He says he spent three days in isolation.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What does that do to your mind?

Kenny Rogan: Changes it a lot. Get too used to being in the cell after a while, and use to doing all that stuff. When you come out here into the community, it’s not right, doesn’t feel right. That’s why most of the boys are already back there by a month or so, ’cause it changes your mind.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Ethan Austral says he has also received brutal treatment and kept in solitary confinement since the old Don Dale was closed.

Ethan Austral: Yeah, I got tackled by the other workers and they held me down for about an hour with a zip tie around my back on my wrists and a spit hood around my face. After that they carried me down the back, put me in a cell, took the hood off and left the zip ties on.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Like this? Behind your back?

Ethan Austral: Yeah.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Inside the new Don Dale’s isolation unit, the HSU, Minister Elferink and his staff weren’t keen on discussing the continued use of solitary confinement.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: So would there be any young people at the moment who are being detained in isolation I guess is how you describe it for 23 hours a day?

Minister John Elferink: No.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: No.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Has that happened since August 2014?

Minister John Elferink: I don’t know the answer to that question. It’s an operational question.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: With that our prison visit was over.

Minister John Elferink: Thank you ma’am.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Thank you.

John B. Lawrence: If I treated my children like that, the authorities would take my children from me quite properly so because I would be behaving cruelly to them. There’s no smudging this. You can’t … we’re talking about kids that are being shackled with handcuffs on their ankles, their wrists, their waist areas. They’re being shackled to chairs a la Guantanamo Bay. This is actually happening in Australia in 2016.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: In 2016, The Northern Territory government introduced legislation to legalise something new:

Mechanical restraints for children.

John B. Lawrence: That mechanical device is a chair like this and it includes or has to it handcuffs and shackles.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What do you think of what do you make of that amendment?

John B. Lawrence: This is poison. This isn’t law. This is poison. There’s two words for what’s going on here, because of what they’re doing to Aboriginal children, two words: no future.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Okay.

John B. Lawrence: I’m done.

Jared Sharp: I’ve seen an image of a child who’s in a restraint chair um which was a very disturbing image to see who had a hood over his head.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: It’s affected you that image, hasn’t it?

Jared Sharp: Mmm.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: An image brought solicitor Jared Sharp to tears…a freeze-frame from a video.

And we’ve obtained the shocking film.

This is what a child in a mechanical device looks like:

It’s March 2015.

The boy in the chair is Dylan Voller. Now 17, he’s been taken to the adult prison.

The guards strap him down tightly to a restraint chair after the boy had threatened to harm himself.

Guard: Yep that one is fine.

Guard: Alright you are doing well.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: He’s left like this, alone in a cell, for almost two hours.

When the guards return…Dylan Voller is almost catatonic.

Guard: Are we a lot calmer?

Dylan Voller: Yeah.

Guard: How are you going to spend the rest of your night?

Guard: Nice and quiet?

Guard: Not much fun, hey?

Dylan Voller: Nah.

Ruth Barson, Senior Lawyer, Human Rights Law Centre: Just pacing like he’s in a cage.

Megan Mitchell, National Children’s Commissioner: That’s what the boys say, they’re like animals in those confined spaces.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Prior to going to air…Four Corners presented some the material we’ve obtained to the National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell, and human rights lawyer Ruth Barson.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What have you just watched?

Ruth Barson: Utterly inexcusable behaviour I think it’s unequivocally a breach of the Convention Against Torture and Mistreatment and a breach against the convention on the rights of the child. And Caro they haven’t just been breached once they’ve as we’ve seen they’ve been breached over multiple years.

Megan Mitchell: I just cannot imagine that anybody would treat other human beings like that and particularly children and they are in the care of the state who is being a proxy parent.

Megan Mitchell: It’s just what we are seeing as well it’s clearly a culture of aggression violence disrespect.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell has inspected the New Don Dale. She’s now calling for the facility to be shut down for good.

Megan Mitchell: Any government running these facilities should really take a good hard look about whether this is salvageable as a facility and I don’t think it is.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Now, there are calls for the Federal Government to intervene.

You are calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to intervene?

John B. Lawrence: Absolutely. Stop it now. It has to stop. How can any country that claims to be civilised have a system of juvenile detention which includes what we’ve just described here? It’s just untenable.