Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull says a royal commission will be held into the treatment of juvenile prisoners in the Northern Territory after shocking footage into their abuse and mistreatment aired on ABC TV’s 4 Corners last night.
The episode, titled “Australia’s Shame: The brutalisation of children behind bars”, revealed teenage children in the NT were held in solitary confinement for more than a fortnight, and in one incident, were sprayed with tear gas in their cells, which prison authorities subsequently lied about to justify their actions.
Footage showed another child repeatedly brutalised by guards over a five year period, including being stripped naked while being held down by three adults. He was later, after threatening self harm, restrained in a chair with a “spit hood” over his head in a scene many are comparing to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Speaking on ABC radio’s AM program this morning, PM Malcolm Turnbull said there would be royal commission into this “very troubling state of affairs”.
Turnbull said he’d spoken to NT chief minister Adam Giles, human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs and minister for indigenous affairs Nigel Scullion today.
“”Like all Australians, I have been deeply shocked, shocked and appalled by the images of mistreatment at the Don Dale Centre,” he said.
The prime minister said previous government investigations had failed to uncover the abuse, which primarily occurred around 2014.
“We want to know why there were inquiries into this centre which did not turn up the evidence and the information that we saw on Four Corners last night,” he said.
“There has been a failure of accountability and transparency,” he said.
Turnbull said the royal commission would “get to the bottom of it, and expose what occurred and expose the culture that allowed it to occur and allowed it to remain unrevealed for so long”.
Territory leader Adam Giles said he was “shocked and disgusted” by what he saw on the program, adding “A community is judged by the way it treats its children”.
But, Giles said “the Northern Territory government does not resile from its tough approach to those who don’t want to respect other people’s property or safety”.
Turnbull said the royal commission will be held in conjunction with the NT government.
4 Corners revealed that solitary confinement was routinely used for extended periods on children as young as 13, often for days longer than the legally mandated maximum of 72 hours.
One former detainee alleged that guards attempted to encourage other prisoners to abuse fellow detainee Dylan Voller, including throwing hot water over him.
Footage also showed Voller kicked and punched to the ground by a guard after he was asked to get off the phone and initially refused.
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