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What happened to ‘raising the age’

In the Northern Territory, there’s a youth detention centre that has been subject to multiple reports, complaints, and a Royal Commission. That Commission recommended it be shut down, but children as young as 10 years old are still being held there.
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In the Northern Territory, there’s a youth detention centre that has been subject to multiple reports, complaints, and a Royal Commission. 

That commission recommended it be shut down, but children as young as 10 years old are still being held there, with reports of minors having been locked inside their cells for 23 hours a day.

Today, journalist for The Saturday Paper, Esther Linder on the grandmother who is fighting for the closure of the Don Dale detention centre. 

 

Guest: Contributor to The Saturday Paper, Esther Linder.

 
Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

 

From Schwartz Media I’m Ruby Jones this is 7am.

 

In the Northern Territory, there’s a youth detention center that has been subject to multiple reports, complaints, and a Royal Commission. 

 

That Commission recommended it be shut down. But today, children as young as 10 years old are still being held there, sometimes in what amounts to isolation.

 

Journalist for The Saturday Paper, Esther Linder, has been reporting on conditions at Don Dale youth detention centre and finding out what the families of children held there want us to know. 

 

It’s Wednesday April 27.

 

And just a reminder, as the election campaign continues, we’ll be bringing you more episodes of The Vote, our guide to the 2022 election. 

 

But today, Esther Linder on the grandmother who is campaigning for the closure of Don Dale detention centre. 

 

[Theme Music Ends]

 

RUBY:

So, Esther, you've recently been speaking to a woman who lives in Darwin. Her name is Donna. Can you tell me a bit about her and and why it is that you've been speaking to her? 

 

ESTHER:
So Donna Hunter is an Aboriginal woman. 

 

Archival Tape -- Esther:
“Hi, Donna, how's it going?”


Archival Tape -- Donna:
“Hi And finally!”

 

ESTHER:
She's a grandmother, a volunteer and an activist. I was speaking to her because I was looking into conditions in youth detention in the Northern Territory. 

 

Archival Tape -- Donna:
“It’s a failing system. And the fact is our Aboriginal community and our own people deal with our own children.” 

 

ESTHER:
There's been well documented cases of overcrowding, lack of staffing issues with facility conditions, and it's getting so bad that families and lawyers think that someone could die. 

 

Archival Tape -- Donna:
“We need action now. We cannot wait for a child to die.” 

 

ESTHER:
And Donna's grandson has been incarcerated three times in the last year in Don Dale. 

 

And she spoke to me about the effect that that's had on him and the long term implications of what could happen. 

 

RUBY:
And Don Dale Youth Detention Centre has become, I would say, quite notorious in recent years. There's been reports about conditions there. So can you just remind me what we know about that facility?  

 

ESTHER:
Absolutely. So Don Dale is a youth justice detention centre that's on the outskirts of Darwin. It used to be an adult jail, and it's been converted into a youth detention facility. The reason it's notorious is because in 2016, photos emerged of children being held at Don Dale, 

 

Archival Tape -- Sarah Ferguson:
“Welcome to Four Corners. The image you've just seen is in from Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib. A boy hooded, shackled, strapped to a chair and left alone. It is barbaric.”

 

ESTHER:
Guards using manual restraints and spit hoods, which are quite notorious for human rights issues. 

 

Archival Tape -- Sarah Ferguson:
“A boy hooded, shackled, strapped to a chair and left alone. It is barbaric.”

ESTHER:
So Four Corners from the ABC at an investigation into the centre and all of these allegations of mistreatment and malpractice occurred. 

 

Archival Tape -- Sarah Ferguson:
“This is juvenile justice in the Northern Territory system that punishes troubled children instead of rehabilitating them.”


ESTHER:
Malcolm Turnbull, who was then prime minister, announced a formal enquiry. 

 

Archival Tape -- Malcolm Turnbull:
“Like all Australians, I have been deeply shocked, shocked and appalled by the images of mistreatment of children at the Don Dale Centre. We will be establishing a royal commission into these events, into this centre. We want to know what lessons can be learnt from it.” 

 

ESTHER:
So the royal commission found that the facilities were unfit. They were unfit for children, they were unfit for adults. They were fundamentally unsafe for people to be working there and for children to be incarcerated. So that commission made 147 findings and 227 recommendations. 

 

Archival Tape -- ABC Radio:
“The Northern Territory government says it supports either in full or in principle, all 227 of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into youth detention and Child Protection, but it hasn't yet announced what funding will be committed to make the necessary sweeping systemic reforms.” 

 

ESTHER:
So one of the main recommendations was the closure of Don Dale in 2016. That hasn't happened. A lot of the recommendations were not adopted, despite a lot of pressure from the government at the time. Instead, the Northern Territory government has spent about $3 million upgrading the centres. 

 

Archival Tape -- ABC Radio:
Well, there's outrage among many indigenous leaders and lawyers representing young people in the Northern Territory, where the government has announced it will wind back key changes that it made in response to the Northern Territory's Youth Justice Royal Commission and increasing spending on detention and electronic monitoring. 

 

ESTHER:
And they've also spent about $60 million building a new Youth Justice Detention Centre right next door. 

 

RUBY:
Right. OK, so at this moment in time, the Northern Territory government is actually investing more and spending more money on Don Dale, and that's despite these recommendations from the Royal Commission that the opposite happened, that the Centre be closed. 

 

ESTHER:
Yeah, exactly, exactly. 

 

So as part of the push against Don Dale and the failing of the entire system, really, Donna is part of a community action group with Amnesty International called Close Don Dale Now. 

 

Archival Tape -- Donna:
“That's what we want this movement that we are closing Close Don Dale now. It's a horrible place. It's a shameful that's abusing our children.” 

 

ESTHER:
She says that the royal commission's findings have been ignored by the government and that the government has failed her grandson. 

   

So Donna's grandson was first arrested for stealing by police when he was 10. He's been incarcerated in Don Dale three times. Now he's now 11.

 

Archival Tape -- Esther:
“Yeah, but he was 11 at the time, right?” 


Archival Tape -- Donna:
“Absolutely. It's I mean, I can't jump into bed with you and can you rub my back?

Yeah. Yeah. So it's like, Oh my God, this is. And that's what worried me when he went in say, like, Hey, you need that giving loving care you know?  

Absolutely”

 

ESTHER:
The last time he was at Don Dale was for three weeks. So this is four years after the recommendations from the Royal Commission were published. 

 

Archival Tape -- Donna:
“He was sad when he was sad. You just had to sort of talk himself into basically, tomorrow will be another day that there was no one that he could speak to.” 

 

ESTHER:
And Donna told me that seven days of her grandson's time at Don Dale were spent in total isolation. 

 

Archival Tape -- Donna:
“And then when Covid was an issue and it was sort of seven days that no one could save the children and isolate for seven days in this house, just Justin nestles. Yeah.” 

 

ESTHER:
And after getting out of isolation, they're still kept in their cells for up to 23 hours a day. 

 

Archival Tape -- Donna:
“And it's a cell. It's not a room. It's a cell. Yeah, you know, you get to come through it. You just hatch. Sometimes they’ve been locked up for 23 hours.” 

 

ESTHER:
These kids, you know, some of them are already traumatised. They need therapeutic care. They need a bit of love and attention and not to be locked up by themselves for hours. 

 

Archival Tape -- Donna:
“They’re meant to be rehabilitating the children, and let's keep going this way. Second of the monsters, yeah, that's what we don't want. Yeah, we want to stop that. We want therapeutic care for children. We want, we want them to be assessed. 

 

The government has failed us in every respect for many years.” 

 

ESTHER:
And I mean, that's that's what so many of these plans from the department say. They're trying to rehabilitate children, they're trying to cut youth crime. But from the actual actions of the department and from what hasn't been done at these centres, it's really seems to be the opposite. 

 

RUBY:
We'll be back in a moment. 

 

[Advertisement]

 

RUBY:
Esther, we've been talking about Don Dale, youth detention facility, there's been many reports of mistreatment that a Royal Commission recommended that the entire place be shut down, but instead the Northern Territory government continues to use the facility and to work to upgrade it. So why is it then that the Northern Territory government continues to to invest in a place like Don Dale?

 

ESTHER:
I think there’s just a lack of action on it, there's a lack of care towards the children there. You know, I found a plan from the Department of Territory, Families, Housing and Communities online entitled Back on Track Cutting Youth Crime, which said that measures taken by the department, such as, you know, reminding children in these centres was ensuring that young people who commit crimes face the consequences of their actions. 

 

Also, there were changes made last year to bail laws in the NT, which basically made it much harder for minors to get bail. 

 

Families Minister Kate Warden said that quote “We have to get ahead of the game and that's what this is about. If we do see that rise in numbers, then we make sure that we've got adequate beds and that they're safe.”  

 

And I think something that is really foremost in my mind when talking about this is that most of the children in the system are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and many people told me about this sort of deep running apathy towards indigenous issues in the territory, particularly when it comes to youth detention, because it just feels like more of the same. We're always hearing the same sad stories and nothing's ever changing. 

 

RUBY:
So most of the children who are in youth detention in the Northern Territory at any given moment in time, the vast majority of them are Aboriginal. 

 

ESTHER:
Yeah, yeah. So the department's Youth Justice Census shows that more than 96 percent of the children incarcerated in both centres are Aboriginal and most are boys. And it's it's kind of hard not to link that with what's going on to link the fact that most of these children are Indigenous. And then the lack of the lack of care and the apathy that you see. 

 

Archival Tape -- John Lawrence:
“This, has been going on for well over 30 years, and it has been getting worse and worse and rapidly worse every year to those very years.” 

 

ESTHER:
And I think this is best summed up by one of the people that I spoke to, whose name is John Lawrence. He's a barrister. He represented two of the detainees of Don Dale at the royal commission in 2016. 

 

Archival Tape -- John Lawrence:
“I mean it's clear as day that this is institutional racism, if for no other reason it couldn't happen to non-Indigenous and all First Nations kids.”

 

ESTHER:
And he just called it racism. Essentially, he said that this could only happen to First Nations people. 

 

Archival Tape -- John Lawrence:
“This is a story that is front and centre about child abuse. It's about 10 year old damaged indigenous children being locked up in those cells”

 

RUBY:
And so what are the effects then on these children? What's it like for them to to go to Don Dale, to spend this time in solitary confinement and then come out? What are the long term effects? 

 

ESTHER:
Well, statements from the Office of the Children's Commissioner know that the detrimental impact of solitary confinement on young people is well known, and they've urged the department to find alternatives to remanding children in detention, which seems to be the go to at the moment. Inmates held in solitary confinement experience a range of mental health problems, including anxiety, panic, insomnia, paranoia, aggression and depression. 

 

And these children, they're 10 years old, like the age of criminal responsibility, is so low in the NT. That's despite the UN Commission on the Rights of the Child recommendation that the age of criminal responsibility should be 14 because before then, kids haven't developed the capacity to assess risk for the consequences or control their impulses. They're just too young. 

 

Um and if the age was raised, Donna's grandson wouldn't have been in jail at all. 

 

RUBY:
What has Donna said to you then, about the impacts of this on her grandson and how she feels about his future? 

 

ESTHER:
She said that he's doing better now when I spoke to her. 

 

Archival Tape -- Donna:
“He did ring me the next day, OK, and it was like it was like, hell. And then I was like, Oh my God, you know, I missed you. I'm gonna and I can understand that more. And then you're like, Yeah, yeah, yeah, it just breaks your heart.”

 

ESTHER:
I think it's really important to note as well. He hasn't been sentenced yet. Many of the children that. Or through Don Dale haven't been sentenced or convicted of any crime, he was on remand the entire time.

 

Archival Tape -- Donna:
“It's just heartbreaking to think that these all these children are going to be our future and all we're doing is locking them up.” 

 

ESTHER:
She was telling me how he he wrote this letter about how he felt during being incarcerated for her to rage at one of the protests, and I didn't get a picture of it from her, but it it really sounded like it had impacted him really deeply. And I think that, you know, I'm not a child psychologist, but you know, I think anyone with a heart can kind of try and empathise and think, you know, a 10 year old child being locked up for 24 hours a day is a pretty would be a pretty awful experience and I would imagine have really long term consequences. 

 

Archival Tape -- Donna:
“What are we going to wait for? The unthinkable to happen? Yeah, because I do anything about it. Yeah, surely they've got a heart, they have children?”  

 

RUBY:

Esther, thank you so much for talking to me about this. 

 

ESTHER:
Thanks Ruby.

 

[Advertisement]

 

RUBY:

In the news today,

 

According to the latest Newspoll, Labor is still ahead of the Coalition 53-47 per cent on a two party preferred basis.

 

The result is unchanged from the last two News polls conducted since the election was called.

 

The latest Ipsos poll also has Labor leading 55 to 45 per cent, the same as three weeks before.

 

And, the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, has reached a $61 billion deal to takeover Twitter.

 

Musk has previously advocated prioritising libertarian free-speech concerns over policing hate speech on the platform.

 

In a statement, he said he saw the platform as quote “the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”

 

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

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