Malcolm Turnbull

'It happens in just about every prison': rehabilitated prisoner says Don Dale incidents come as 'no surprise'

Mervyn Eades speaks to SBS Source: SBS World News

A Western Australian Indigenous mentor has welcomed the news of a Royal Commission into the treatment of children in the Northern Territory corrections system, saying he's not surprised mistreatment has occurred.

Mervyn Eades is no stranger to the justice system.

He spent close to two decades behind bars - all before reaching the age of 31 - and says it’s “no surprise” that Indigenous children were treated in such a barbaric way in an Australian corrections system.

“It happens in just about every prison behind closed doors and it’s stuff that the wider society doesn't see,” Mr Eades said.

It happens in just about every prison behind closed doors

The ABC’s Four Corners program on Monday night aired graphic footage of young Indigenous offenders being stripped naked, tear-gassed and held in solitary confinement for weeks.

Other footage, filmed at the Northern Territory’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, showed a 17-year-old hooded and shackled to a mechanical chair and left for two hours.

“That happens everywhere, it's happened for years it's no surprise to us, and it'll be no surprise to no indigenous person that's been in the prison system.

“There is some traumatic stuff that happens to both our youth and our adults in the prison systems,” he said

Mervyn Eades now assists the Aboriginal people of Western Australia transition from prison to the workforce through his own not-for-profit.

“In the justice system there is no form of rehabilitation. It's punishment,” he said.

By Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had responded to the ABC program by announcing a Royal Commission into the treatment of children held in detention in the Northern Territory.

"We're determined to get to the bottom of this. We're determined to examine the extent to which there has been a culture of abuse and, indeed, whether there has been a culture of cover-up,” the prime minister said.

“There have been inquiries into this centre before and these events portrayed on Four Corners last night did not emerge.”

Labor supports a Royal Commission, however, wants it to examine more than just the Northern Territory’s corrections system.

“It is beyond belief that this could have occurred in a country like Australia. The perpetrators should immediately face the full force of the law,” Acting Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek said.

“This abhorrent conduct should never, ever be allowed to happen again.”

Mervyn Eades is in Canberra for an Indigenous suicide prevention conference and welcomed the news, saying there are “serious problems” and “issues” that need to be fixed.

“If a Royal Commission can bring about the awareness and set up strategies to stop these sort of things happening, yes, fine we need it,” he said.

Northern Territory Corrections Minister John Elferink has been sacked from his portfolio following the public outrage over the treatment of the young inmates.

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