• Applause at the release of the final report of the Royal Commission. (Elliana Lawford/NITV News)
The juvenile justice royal commission's final report will hand federal and NT governments a blueprint to close a dark chapter inside Australia's youth prisons.
By
Elliana Lawford, Staff writers

17 Nov 2017 - 9:49 AM  UPDATED 17 Nov 2017 - 5:37 PM

The juvenile justice royal commission has told the Northern Territory government to shut down Darwin's notorious Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.

The findings of the $54 million inquiry, which was sparked when footage of boys being tear gassed, wearing spithoods and being shackled was aired on television last year, were released on Friday.

Commissioners Margaret White and Mick Gooda said their recommendations would save nearly $336 million over the next decade, if implemented.

The report also called for a new Children’s Court, implementation of an early intervention family support program and a Commission for Children and Young People under a comprehensive reform program the report said was aimed at restoring the "failed detention and child protection systems in the Northern Territory".

There was also a call to increase the age of criminal responsibility for minors to 12-years-old.

The report authors described: "shocking and systemic failures occurred over many years and were known and ignored at the highest levels".

"Children and young people were subjected to regular, repeated and distressing mistreatment in detention and there was a failure to follow the procedures and requirements of the law in many instances."

Priscilla Atkins, CEO of North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency applauded the report's findings.

"The recommendations are fantastic, we really welcome this report because it's really taken into account the things we have been lobbying for many, many years now and it's always fallen on deaf ears," she told NITV News

"So to be looking at the recommendations; it's a huge relief.

"Things like the closure of Don Dale, raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12, no child under 14 will be detained."

WATCH: Dylan Voller responds to RC final report

The report's findings include that the NT system failed to comply with basic human rights for children and young people and failed to provide care and systems to avoid reoffending.

The commissioners advised the Gunner NT government to instead invest in small facilities.

The Labor government has already committed to replacing Don Dale but was awaiting advice from the commission before taking action.

The commission also advocates for the age when children can be charged, brought to court and imprisoned be lifted from 10 years to 12 years.

It wants the High Security Unit within Don Dale shut down immediately and an end to the detention of kids under 14 years unless they are charged with "serious" offences.

The 15-month inquiry, which took twice as long as originally intended, also recommended an end to the use of restraints and isolation for managing detainee behaviour.

“The Northern Territory and Commonwealth Governments were right to commission this Inquiry and what we have found vindicates their decision,” said Commissioner Margaret White AO and Commissioner Mick Gooda.

“These things happened on our watch, in our country, to our children."

Speaking after the report's release Western Australian Labor Senator Pat Dodson said the NT and Commonwealth Governments needed to move quickly on the recommendations. 

"If we are too tardy in implementing the Northern Territory Royal Commission recommendations to meet the needs of young people, we will be internationally condemned".

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner promised the most comprehensive overhaul of youth justice in territory history.

"We cannot let this report sit on the shelf gathering dust like so many that have come before," he told a community event for the final report's release.

Mr Gunner said it was sobering that the report was borne out of the treatment of children in the NT government's care.

"It will live as a stain on the Northern Territory reputation," he said.

"For this I am sorry. But more than this I'm sorry for the stories that live in the children we failed.

"Youth justice is supposed to make our kids better, not break them."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the attorney-general and Indigenous affairs minister said most of the royal commission's recommendations are matters for the NT but the federal government will carefully consider the findings.

Shocking video that triggered the Royal Commission

When Malcolm Turnbull watched Abu Ghraib-style footage of boys being tear gassed at Darwin's notorious Don Dale Detention Centre on national television last July, the appalled prime minister wanted answers. Within hours he'd called a royal commission into the Northern Territory's broken juvenile justice and child protection systems, to find out why kids were being spit-hooded and shackled behind bars, and to make sure it never happens again.

Today the lessons learned from that $54 million inquiry were handed to the federal and NT governments when commissioners Margaret White and Mick Gooda deliver their recommendations.

When hearings began 13 months ago, it was flagged that dozens of similar reviews, which had already canvassed the problems and solutions, have gathered dust.

For this thrice-delayed report not to meet the same fate, it will need political will and money to match.

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner has refused to "hand over a blank cheque" and will wait to see the findings before accepting any recommendations, while the federal government still hasn't committed to help fund their implementation.

They are likely to advocate a major shift in policy favouring rehabilitation and community-led diversion over what the commission labelled the "punitive" tough-on-crime measures of the past.

Legal and human rights advocates hope bold change can close a dark chapter inside the Territory's youth prisons, and NT Labor has already committed to replacing Don Dale.

Dylan Voller became the poster boy for the Northern Territory Royal Commission into youth detention after the ABC's Four Corners aired the program "Australia's Shame" in July 2016, which revealed the mistreatment of youth inside Darwin's Don Dale Detention Centre. 

Mr Voller's childhood was largely filled with solitary confinement, violence, and spit hoods. Overseas, media described his treatment inside youth detention as “like something out of Guantanamo Bay”.

“There was times where I thought that that was the only place for me, was to be stuck in detention, and stuff like that, because I'd become so used to it, it was just a normal thing to just be staying in detention, even staying in my room 24/7 it just became normal,” he told NITV earlier this year.

In 2014, Mr Voller was sentenced to three years and eight months for aggravated robbery, he says he punched a man and stole his wallet.

“I have accepted and admitted that I have done the wrong thing, I have made silly threats, I have abused prison staff, I’ve spat, I’ve kicked doors, I’ve done stuff like that, and yeah I do admit it, I have admitted to it and I know it was wrong,” he said.

“But nothing like that justifies adult officers grabbing us kids by the necks, locking us in cells for long periods of time, and none of it justifies the behaviour that goes on in Don Dale from the staff, so I think it's just time that they all accept responsibility, because I think that’s the only way to, I guess, forgive the system and move on, is accepting what you’ve done is wrong.”

Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT wants resources for any new large institutions to be redirected into early intervention and small therapeutic facilities instead.

The alliance of land councils and legal aid and medical services also called for all vulnerable children to be governed under a single piece of legislation and one specialist youth court.

The Human Rights Law Centre is demanding the government raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14, stating it is breaching international law.

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The inquiry's interim report cited evidence of "unlawful practices" in youth detention, but it is unknown whether the commission will recommend criminal prosecution of individuals, including politicians in charge at the time of the 2014 gassing incident.

Jesuit Social Services wants an end to the use of restraints and isolation, and says a trauma-informed public health approach is needed, with better-resourced family support services.

With AAP