(UR) Australia — “It’s a brutalizing treatment. Depending on how you define torture, if you include extended periods of isolation and seclusion as a torture, I think you could define what I’ve seen happening in the youth justice facilities as torture.”
Those words were spoken by Dr. Howard Bath — former Children’s Commissioner for the Northern Territory of Australia — in a recent episode of Four Corners, an investigative journalism program that airs weekly in that country.
The episode, titled “Australia’s Shame,” premiered Monday, and focused on the deplorable treatment of child detainees at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Australia’s Northern Territory.
The footage obtained by Four Corners — most of which had never been made public — showed, as CNN wrote,“children as young as 10 being stripped naked, assaulted, tear-gassed and kept in solitary confinement.”
Immediately upon being aired, the episode sent shockwaves of anger and alarm throughout Australia. Within hours, the man in charge of the Don Dale facility had been fired, and by Tuesday Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had announced a Royal Commission would be set up to investigate.
“Like all Australians, we were shocked and appalled by the images of mistreatment of children at the detention centre,”Turnbull stated in a press release. “Every child in our justice system must be treated with humanity and respect at all times.”
Much of the Four Corners episode is dedicated to events that occurred in August of 2014, when six boys — who’d been caged, separately, in an isolation unit of Don Dale for nearly 24 hours a day for weeks — were assaulted by guards after one of the boys managed to break free of his cell.
The boy, then 14, had lost all sense of time and pleaded with guards to tell him long he’d been locked up. The guards, on the other side of the door, were filmed — by the staff’s own camera — laughing at the boy’s suffering.
“Fuckin’ idiot,” says one guard. “He’s an idiot, bro,” agrees another.
Four Corners reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna, who narrates the episode, describes the events that followed:
“Protesting against his confinement, the frustrated child starts ramming doors and smashing windows, while five boys watch from inside their cells. How prison management responded beggars belief.”
No longer amused by the distraught child’s behavior, an irritated guard tells another to “go grab the fuckin’ gas.”
The guards then fire no less than 10 bursts of tear gas at the boys — even the five others who were simply watching from their cells — for up to eight minutes.
“That’ll learn ya,” says one guard as a boy cries out. “Now he’s shitting himself,” adds another.
The boys are then shackled, dragged outside, and sprayed with a fire hose.
Even more disturbing, Don Dale management then reported to police that the boys had escaped their cells, armed themselves with broken glass, and begun to riot. This, as the evidence clearly demonstrates, was a boldfaced lie.
“One of those aspects of this issue that’s the most concerning is that there was a deliberate effort to misinform the public about what occurred,” Jared Sharp, a lawyer with the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, told Four Corners.
It was Sharp, after being taken on a tour of the Don Dale facility and was aghast at what he saw, who blew the whistle to then-Children’s Commissioner, Dr. Howard Bath. Bath immediately launched an investigation, culminating in a 2012 report in which he detailed the abuse taking place in youth justice facilities.
That report was deemed confidential, and to this day, Dr. Bath is unable to speak about its contents.
“So the authorities knew as early as 2012, the authorities, the government knew of excessive force and inappropriate solitary confinement of children in detention?” Meldrum-Hanna asks Bath in the episode.
“Yes,” Bath responds.
“And nothing was done,” says Meldrum-Hanna.
“As far as I know, nothing was done.” Dr. Bath states flatly.
The gravity of the abuse that took place — and, no doubt, is still taking place — at Don Dale goes far beyond what can be expressed in this article. And the individual aggressions — many of which were directed at one boy who, among other indignities, was strapped into a metal chair and forced to wear a “spitmask” for hours — are simply too numerous to accurately convey.
The footage, truly, has to be seen to be believed.
But the overall attitude of the Don Dale staff can be aptly characterized by words spoken by a guard. When the boy who managed to escape from his cell back in August of 2014 began to try to climb out of a busted window, one staff member grabs a broom in preparation to “poke him back through.”
This wasn’t adequate treatment in the eyes of another guard, however, who states, with eagerness:
“No, let the fucker come through because while he’s comin’ through he’ll be off balance. I’ll pulverize, I’ll pulverize the little fucker.”
This article (Investigation Begins After Video Reveals Horrific Abuse at Youth Detention Center) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to James Holbrooks and UndergroundReporter.org. If you spot a typo, please email the error and the name of the article to firstname.lastname@example.org. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Bidgee