Don Dale a prison of 'despair': report makes 172 recommendations

Joanne Voller, the mother of Dylan, whose treatment in NT youth detention sparked a royal commission, at a protest in Sydney in 2016 Source: AAP

A new report into the NT's notorious Don Dale Youth Detention Centre has called for it to be shut down amid rampant structural and operational failings.

A report into the Northern Territory's notorious Don Dale Youth Detention Centre has revealed an "overwhelming impression of disrepair and despair".

NT Justice Minister Natasha Fyles released a redacted version of a review into corrections on Thursday, after previously refusing to do so over "security" issues.

A Safer Northern Territory Through Correctional Interventions, also known as the Hamburger report, said when the review team members visited the facility this year, they were "dismayed by the conditions in which staff were working and the youth were living".

"Accommodating youth offenders in a facility that was condemned when it housed adult prisoners is unacceptable," the report said.

It flagged concerns with the number of "hanging points" in the cells which could be used to self harm, and that vulnerable kids were not medically assessed immediately after reception.

It also condemned the isolation suffered by young female offenders - who make up roughly 10 per cent of inmates - and slammed a lack of privacy in their shower facilities.

There were no female youth justice officers to support these girls and make a difference to the environment in the centres, the report found.

"Female officers can have a calming influence on male offenders in that the male-on-male 'supremacy contest' is effectively negated," the report said.

Don Dale
Protestors rally for justice on the first day of the Northern Territory Royal Commission into juvenile justice in Sydney on October 11, 2016. (AAP)

Footage of boys being tear gassed and spit hooded two years ago at Darwin's Don Dale shocked the nation this year and sparked a royal commission.

The report said the use of spit hoods is "totally unacceptable, as staff can and should protect themselves from spitting youths by wearing helmets equipped with visors."

As of May this year, there were 35 young people in detention at Don Dale and nine in detention at the Alice Springs facility.

Sixty-five per cent of these kids were on remand, as opposed to sentenced detainees, and 95 per cent were indigenous.

"These statistics are not uncommon and at times the youth population in detention has risen to nearly 60," the report found.

Almost half of Don Dale's Youth Justice Officers had been in the job for less than six months, and 65 per cent of those guards had less than 12 months' service.

"Accommodating youth offenders in a facility that was condemned when it housed adult prisoners is unacceptable." 

Correctional Officers with no youth training often work at the short-staffed facility and there were serious flaws in the approach to the management and rehabilitation of youth offenders.

The report called for the facility to be closed as soon as practicable and future staff salaries be hiked to reflect the level of responsibilities they faced.

"It was now time for the oppressive, custodial regime to be lifted at (Don Dale) to allow more engagement with detainees, and to provide an environment and regime more suitable to young people," the report said.

The scathing report makes 172 recommendations into both youth and adult justice, calling for a complete overhaul to address a "devastating" crisis unfolding for Indigenous Australians.

It was commissioned by the former Country Liberals government, but the then chief minister Adam Giles refused to release it ahead of the August election that crushed his party.

Source AAP

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