• Jermaine Lui is one of hundreds of former Don Dale detainees who have won a payout because of his mistreatment at the youth facility. (NITV The Point)Source: NITV The Point
Former detainees of Don Dale are trying to move forward with the help of compensation won from the NT Government over their mistreatment.
Karen Michelmore, Lindy Kerin

The Point
11 May 2022 - 12:38 PM  UPDATED 11 May 2022 - 12:41 PM

Jermaine Lui was just 10 years old when he was first locked up inside the Northern Territory’s notorious Don Dale youth detention center.

It was the start of a long, troubled relationship with the facility, spanning into early adulthood.

“I can’t remember, to be honest, most of my childhood,” he tells NITV's The Point program.

“I came from a bad background and growing up, being in the system that was meant to rehabilitate us, they failed to do so, and that led us to keep doing what we were doing.”

Class action successful, but only half have claimed

Jermaine Lui is starting a new chapter in his life, working on a commercial fishing boat.

He is one of hundreds of former Don Dale detainees who were part of a successful class action against the Northern Territory government over their mistreatment at the centre between 2006 and 2017.

The $35 million settlement won by legal firm Maurice Blackburn is believed to be the biggest class action win in Northern Territory history.

The NT government is proposing to put a $15,000 dollar cap on damages for mistreatment in correctional facilities, in a move designed to limit future legal payouts. The proposed changes have been roundly condemned by Aboriginal justice groups.

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Kerry Palmer and her team have been traveling across the Territory to meet with former detainees.

The law firm estimates around 1200 people would be eligible for compensation, but only half of those have signed up so far. They have until the end of July to register.

Compensation for rough treatment inside

Ms Palmer says the payments are an acknowledgement of the pain and suffering caused in detention.

“People are being compensated in this class action for the rough treatment that they would receive from officers from too much handcuffing, and too much strip searching, and for time they were held in isolation cells on their own for long periods of time,” she says.

The law firm has arranged financial counseling sessions to help people prepare and plan for their future.

It’s hoped the landmark compensation case will spark change in the way young people are treated in detention.

“This class action has cost the Northern Territory government in the Northern Territory, people $35 million,” she says.

“That money would have been way better spent reforming the system in the first place, before anyone was harmed by it, rather than now, after all that harm has been done.”

Jermaine Lui hopes to use some of the money to work as a mentor to other young people facing tough times.

“There’s nothing I can do now, but  make sure it doesn't happen to the next generation that goes into the same system,” he says.

* For more on this story, watch NITV's The Point at 7.30pm Tuesday, or later on SBS and SBS On Demand