Comment: Don Dale Disgrace

Don Dale Disgrace
The actions of correctional officers at Don Dale Correctional Facility in Darwin, as reported on the Four Corners program, Tuesday 25/7/2016 has – rightfully – shocked the nation. A greater travesty in the history of juvenile justice in this country (apart from sexual abuse) would be hard to find!
Watching the footage of what went on there was – for anyone with a conscience – ethereal, brutal, and traumatising! It raises many questions about institutional juvenile abuse, its length, breadth and depth. The PM has made the decent call for a Royal Commission into the Don Dale abuses, as this is the only way the true horror of this abuse of power can be exposed! I’m willing to bet that it has been ongoing for a very long time, and is endemic. 

These juveniles – many in their early teens, and primarily Indigenous – were locked in claustrophobic isolation cells – referred to as the Behavioral Management Unit or BMU – for 23 hours a day for up to 2 weeks. They were deprived of natural light, fresh air, accessto fresh   water, and left in totally squalid conditions. Malhandling, bashings, and unusual and unnecessary force were used to “control” these juveniles, and the litany of abuses is long…and disgusting. If this is how we “correct” our youth in these facilities, then we need to seriously rethink how we go about this. That the majority of the abuses – which includes tear gassing – was committed on Indigenous youth (already dissdvantaged as it is) makes it even worse. How are these kids ever to be given a chance! This sort of treatment just breeds – apart from the psychological damage – hatred, a lack of any respect for authority, a pure disdain of the “justice” system, a belittling, and cynicism of their worth as individuals, not to mention the total deprivation of basic human rights. Not even Alcatraz could have been this bad!

I would like to know how the powers-that-be at Don Dale allowed these abuses to occur! How easy is it to turn a blind eye to the actions instigated by your officers, under your watch? And at what point did this no longer matter! It would have been bad enough if this had happened to adult inmates – that the abuses were to teenage children defies belief! If these abuses had occured under any other circumstances, these juveniles would have been placed in protective custody. The images of that young boy venting his frustration after getting out of his (supposedly left “accidently” unlocked) cell; the tear-gassing; and that kid being hurled across a room, and that young boy shackled to a chair and hooded, are now  forever etched in my brain!

That these juveniles were guilty of crimes – many petty – no one is denying, but any semblance of “correction” or rehabilitation goes out the window after the onslaught of the footage from Don Dale. These kids just aren’t getting a break at all, are they! As an Australian I am appalled, disgusted and ashamed that children in custody could ever be treated this way. Nothing short of a complete expose of the practices at Don Dale, and severe disciplinary action against both perpetrators and authorities is acceptable! Perhaps locking the responsible officers in the solitary cells at the old Don Dale facility  would be a good and fitting start. Give them a taste of their own medicine!

Tim Alderman (C 2016)

“Correcting” juveniles at Don Dale Correctional Facility

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