• A royal commission has heard ongoing government changes impact Aboriginal child protection services. (AAP)Source: AAP
The NT child protection royal commission has heard that the system is riddled with systemic failures.
27 Jun 2017 - 1:43 PM  UPDATED 27 Jun 2017 - 4:56 PM

The Don Dale Youth Detention Centre scandal may never have occurred if Northern Territory youth prisons had better independent scrutiny, an inquiry has heard.

Western Australia's Inspector of Custodial Services Professor Neil Morgan conducts reviews into prisons, reports to parliament and regularly briefs ministers.

He says an oversight agency with strong powers in the NT would ensure guards are more conscious of their behaviour with the knowledge it will be scrutinised by an external third party.

"Governments and the parliament would have been put clearly on notice of systemic issues and funding problems. They would not have been 'in the dark', or able to claim that they were," he wrote in a statement tendered to the NT juvenile justice royal commission.

"It is less likely that the worse (sic) failings at Don Dale would have happened."

The inquiry was called last year after footage of young offenders being tear gassed, spit-hooded and shackled at the notorious youth facility was aired on national television.

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If such an inspectorate body existed, allegations of abuse by guards would have come to light sooner, Prof Morgan said.

The inspector would also help the Corrections Commissioner in advocating for more funding to tackle poor culture in the system.

Prof Morgan also advocated a more diverse range of residential options for detaining children, including minimum security and work camps.

"Lower-security pre-release facilities should be used to help sentenced children develop skills and return to the community," he said.

"Alternative placements should also be found for children on remand."

He said the government needs to focus on retaining and developing Aboriginal youth prison staff to address a lack of cultural awareness, while greater use of technologies like Skype could allow kids to stay connected to their communities.

Prof Morgan suggested housing older female detainees with young adult prisoners, as they otherwise lack the "critical mass" to receive adequate services.

He gave repeated warnings to the WA government in the lead up to the 2013
Banksia Hill juvenile detention centre riot when 60 inmates escaped their cells and caused $1.5 million worth of damage.

"The behaviour management techniques used in juvenile detention facilities need to be adapted for children and not replicas of what is used for adults," Prof Morgan said.

"If they are not treated fairly and consistently, and given meaningful things to do, then they are likely to misbehave."