Legal and human rights advocates are calling for the Northern Territory government to stop warehousing young offenders.
The NT has the highest rate of youngsters behind bars, 96 per cent of which are Aboriginal.
As of Monday, 18 out of 33 detainees were kept in Don Dale’s high-security unit, which used to be a maximum security section of an old adult jail. That's risen by five in just over a week.
The worrying Don Dale stats have come to light at the same time as the announcement that BushMob will be closing its doors, blaming inaction by the government on security and safety issues leading to breakouts.
High-security unit for low to medium risk detainees
According to data obtained by AAP from Territory Families, four of the 18 boys in Don Dale’s HSU only had medium or low-security classifications. Ten of those in the HSU are on remand, while eight have already been sentenced.
In a submission to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, Human Rights Law Centre Senior Lawyer Shahleena Musk said a youth justice system modelled on adult prisons is a "recipe for failure".
"Most of the children in the youth justice system have suffered significant disadvantage, trauma and health problems," she said.
Territory Families says detainees may still be kept in HSU if they have an escape history or are at risk of harming other inmates.
For years, HSU cells have been known to have little natural light or airflow. But Territory Families says recent upgrades have fitted every room with "improved windows, air-conditioning and individual room water coolers".
The agency has also stressed that kids in the HSU are not kept in solitary confinement.
The ABC’s Four Corners program ‘Australia’s Shame’ which showed images of boys being tear-gassed, and shackled to restraint chairs in spithoods in NT youth prisons sparked the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory last year. It also prompted Labor to inject $18.2 million to overhaul the broken detention system.
Resource allocation issues at play
The NT's Gunner government has committed to building new youth jails in Darwin and Alice Springs, but is waiting for the inquiry's recommendations, due September 30, before deciding on a final plan.
No money was allocated for the facilities in this year's budget, but Labor has pledged $15.3 million for bail support accommodation and safe houses to help juveniles awaiting trial.
In the meantime, the Territory's only remote rehabilitation boot camp, BushMob closed its doors on Tuesday.
The rehabilitation centre says the government failed to fix inappropriate infrastructure that has led to escapes, including the five teenagers who absconded from the facility and went on a crime spree last Friday.
"Territory Families expected us to run their trial program for high-risk young people without a reliable phone communication system, lighting, security cameras or basic fencing nor access to adequate water and power supply," BushMob Aboriginal Corporation Chief Executive Will MacGregor said.
"This is unacceptable by anyone's standards."
Mr MacGregor said the facility lacked the infrastructure to respond to emergencies or overcome problems like blind spots at night.
"It is extremely sad that these issues have overshadowed the good work of the dedicated BushMob team, local Indigenous people, and the Traditional Owners running the camp and the efforts of the many young people who benefited and excelled during the pilot," he said.
Steven Rawson, manager of the Apmere Mwerre or Good Place Program, BushMob’s camp at Love's Creek Station west of Alice Springs, told NITV News it's no longer safe to run the program.
“When we approached Territory families about what they were going to do about it, they assured us that basically nothing was going to get done until the end of December when our contract expires."
But Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield says the agency has given significant support to BushMob and will partner with a new group to deliver diversion schemes.
"They have been provided with $2.4 million over an 18-month period to deliver the program, and I'm disappointed that they feel they can't effectively run (it)," she said.
The agency says over the previous 10 months it has invested $110,900 in infrastructure upgrades, including universal locks and steel lock plates, air- conditioning to all rooms, road-grading and a new generator. Additional works to the value of $180,000 are planned this financial year.
Territory Families has said it’s working on an exit strategy to ensure that the kids referred to BushMob are able to complete the initiative.
Amnesty International weighed into the situation and has called on the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, to pledge the Commonwealth's support for Indigenous-run prevention, diversion and rehabilitation programs.
The HRLC has also called for more investment in Indigenous-led alternatives to detention, and said any reforms must be evidence-based instead of just "making it up as they go along".
"The NT Government must shift its priorities away from shoring up failed youth detention centres that warehouse children towards proven community-based options like education, training and drug and alcohol programs that help kids get their lives back on track," Ms Musk said.
Don Dale Inmate tally as of July 10, 2017:
Total number in detention: 33 (3 girls and 30 boys)
HSU: 18 boys (1 low-security classification, 3 medium, 14 high)
10 on remand, 8 sentenced.
Source: Territory Families