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Issue #1772      April 5, 2017

Commission hears stories of abuse

Former and current juvenile detainees have shared harrowing stories of abuse, mistreatment and cruelty with the Royal Commission into Juvenile Detention in the Northern Territory.

Last month the royal commission held hearings in Alice Springs and heard from a young Aboriginal man that when he was a juvenile he had been threatened with rape by guards and was forced to shower with adult prisoners.

The young man said he was sent to Darwin’s adult prison from Don Dale Youth Detention Centre after throwing a chair at a guard during a riot at Christmas 2011 and was kept in solitary confinement.

“While I was showering an adult prisoner was standing next to me. I was really embarrassed and scared and I turned to face the wall,” he said. The then 17-year-old said officers put a spit hood on him each time he left isolation to visit a nurse even though he hadn’t been spitting.

“I couldn’t breathe and I didn’t know what was going on. I freaked out,” he said.

The young man, who is still in custody, said one guard asked when he’d turn 18 and return to the adult prison, saying, “I’ll get some of the guys to rape you when you get back.”

Once back at Don Dale, the young man said he and other children were chained to a fence for more than an hour with their arms above their heads in 2012 after one kid sprayed a fire extinguisher into the cells.

“One guard grabbed my arms and another put me in a headlock. I think I fainted, dropped to the ground and then they picked me up and they handcuffed me to the fence,” he said. The officers took the detainees’ bedding and mattresses away after firefighters hosed out the cells.

“That night we were locked in our cells on the wet concrete with no bedding. I was only wearing jocks. I think some of the kids were naked,” he said.

He said he had a sore shoulder after the incident but was denied medical treatment for two months. The young man, who left school in Year 7, said his eyesight had been a problem since he was 12 but he was never tested in Don Dale and had only recently been given glasses.

His grandmother told the inquiry she was shocked to discover the conditions at Don Dale stating it was “very frightening, even as an adult. There was no privacy. The officers were always within earshot I think he wanted to tell me things but he couldn’t He looked scared and down,” she said.

At the hearings, a male former Northern Territory prison guard who forcibly held a young girl down while she was stripped to her underwear called it standard “procedure”.

Former Don Dale shift supervisor Trevor Hansen told the royal commission he restrained a misbehaving 15-year-old girl face down on a cement bed as a female colleague removed her clothes to prevent self-harm.

Hansen said at the time of the incident in 2009 there was no guidelines in place restricting a male guard from taking part in the undressing of a young female detainee.

“It was procedure,” he said. “The clothing was removed so they couldn’t use those garments to hang themselves.” The girl received a lump on her cheek when she hit her head while being held and wanted to press charges against Hansen, but police never interviewed him.

In 2012, another 15-year-old girl claimed Hansen threw her to the ground of a cell and locked the girl’s legs behind her buttocks for refusing to leave an exercise yard.

The young inmate said she couldn’t breathe properly, sustained injuries to her foot and bruising to her ribs.

Hansen said the incident was investigated but no one in the chain of command had any issue with his conduct.

“The messy nature of the way we had to bring her inside makes you look at yourself in that regard, and the way things were done,” Hansen said. “There was a struggle and she was fighting all the way through. You want to take them in without injuring them, and that did not happen.”

Hansen denied ever directly strip-searching girl detainees or threatening to, but said chronic short-staffing meant he was needed to be in the same room to protect the sole female officer conducting the search.

The inquiry heard from three current and former youth inmates who painted a disturbing picture of abuse and prolonged isolation.

Former inmate Jamal Turner said there were no interpreters provided for children from Aboriginal communities who had difficulty speaking English, and some white guards called them “dumb black kids.”

Another former detainee said when he broke his collarbone from a sports injury guards ignored his complaints, and it took three days for him to be taken to the hospital.

He called for culturally-informed activities and counseling.

“I think that 80% of the detainees like me needed someone to talk to … I saw some kids lost without culture,” he said.

Koori Mail

Next article – Outcome – Western Australian Upper House decided

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