• Clouds loom over the Northern Territory town of Alice Springs. (Getty)Source: Getty
Inmates at the understaffed youth prison have been sleeping on mattresses or flown 1500km to Darwin's Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.
25 Jul 2018 - 9:44 AM  UPDATED 25 Jul 2018 - 9:45 AM

The Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre has been operating at more than double its capacity for much of this year, angering Aboriginal Elders who say traumatised children are being further abused in overcrowded conditions.

The youth prison is supposed to be a 10-bed secure facility but has regularly had more than 20 children in its care this year, including 27 in late May.

Young inmates have slept only on mattresses or been flown 1500km to Darwin's bigger Don Dale Youth Detention Centre because of the overcrowding, preventing family who are allegedly sometimes only told after the move from seeing them.

The Alice Springs centre is also significantly understaffed, falling below half of staffing capacity, forcing regular eight-hour lockdowns during the day when the adolescent inmates are confined to their cells.

One youth justice worker in Alice Springs recently worked 30 shifts in a row, with all staff overworked, Community and Public Sector Union NT regional secretary Kay Densley said.

There are also allegations of assaults by guards against inmates at the centre.

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All youth detainees in the NT are Aboriginal and mostly on remand, but when they eventually go to court they are usually set free to serve a sentence in the community.

The Strong Grandmothers of the Central Desert Region group are rallying outside the Alice Springs court on Wednesday to mark the second anniversary of the Four Corners TV report about abuse inside Don Dale that shocked the nation.

The report infamously showed Indigenous teenager Dylan Voller in a restraining chair wearing a spit-hood, along with footage of him and other children being physically abused.

PM Malcolm Turnbull reacted by ordering a Royal Commission and the NT Government has committed $229 million to implementing its recommendations around improving youth justice and protection.

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Alice Springs Kaytetye and Arrernte woman Christine Kngwarraye Palmer said the Strong Grandmothers group is setting up regular meetings and visits to the centre from next week to check on the youths' welfare.

Don Dale and Alice Springs have regular traumatic incidents, which are sometimes violent, including the alleged rape of one detainee by another last year. Three young people escaped from the latter last week.

One of the escapees told his family that guards inside the centre were "cheeky", which often means aggressive towards the inmates. Others have made the same complaints and said guards also try to provoke detainees, Ms Palmer said.

"If kids are on remand we want them out of there and back with their family or kinship family, we will help find those families for those children," she said.

Ms Palmer said many Indigenous people were angry no one was charged over the Voller footage and worry about the training and experience of staff working at the centre, especially given claims that some of them are on working holidays. She believes Aboriginal men and women should be recruited instead.

"I don't want to get into a black-white argument but if that [Don Dale abuse] happened to a white kid, what would the aftermath be?" she questioned.

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There are also no medical specialists based at the Alice Springs centre to treat young people with drug withdrawal.

Drastic changes were needed in Alice Springs to deal with social problems, she said.

Government and non-government organisations had to be held more accountable for the funds they were supposed to be spending on child protection and justice, which Aboriginal people had lost control over since "the intervention" in 2007, she said.

The NT Territory Families department and minister responsible Dale Wakefield did not respond to requests for comment.