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World News

Australia youth justice: Inquiry finds ‘shocking’ failures



A major Australian inquiry has recommended the closure of a youth detention centre involved in an abuse scandal that shocked the nation.Last year, a TV programme broadcast images of inmates being mistreated – including one teenage boy who was restrained and placed in spit hood.

It prompted a royal commission into Northern Territory (NT) youth justice.The inquiry’s final report calls for sweeping changes to address the “shocking and systemic failures”.Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre should be closed immediately, said commissioners Margaret White and Mick Gooda in their report tabled to parliament on Friday.

The commissioners found that inmates had been “subjected to regular, repeated and distressing mistreatment”, including the use of inappropriate force, restraint and verbal abuse.”These things happened on our watch, in our country, to our children,” the commissioners said.

Key proposals

The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, which began in September last year, heard from 214 witnesses and examined 480 witness statements.

Its final recommendations include:

Ending detention for children aged under 14, except for serious crimes

Raising the age of criminal responsibility from 12 to 14

Banning the use of tear gas and force on children in detention, and introducing body-worn cameras

A “paradigm shift” away from punitive penalties to therapy and rehabilitation

Increasing engagement with indigenous groups, noting that Aboriginal people are over-represented in detention.

Disturbing allegations

The inquiry began after the Australian Broadcasting Corporation aired footage of teenage inmates being tear-gassed and strip-searched at the Don Dale centre.One image showed an inmate, Dylan Voller, wearing shackles and a spit hood on a chair.

Last year Voller, 19, told the inquiry he had been deprived of food, repeatedly strip-searched and prevented from using a toilet during his detention.”I’d been asking to go to the toilet for four or five hours and they kept saying no,” he said of one incident.

“I ended up having to defecate into a pillowcase because they wouldn’t let me go to the toilet.”The inside of the Don Dale centre in the Northern Territory

Amnesty International previously described the regime at the centre as “institutionalised brutality”, with teenagers being held in solitary confinement with no access to light or water for long periods.

Leaders urged to act

Ms White and Mr Gooda said the systemic failures had happened “over many years and were known and ignored at the highest levels”.”The time for tinkering around the edges and ignoring the conclusions of the myriad of inquiries that have already been conducted must come to an end,” they said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his government would “carefully consider” the recommendations, but said most were the responsibility of the NT government.”Importantly, many of the recommendations have wider implications for all jurisdictions,” he said in a statement.NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner promised to act on the proposals, saying they could not “sit on the shelf gathering dust, like so many that have come before”.

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