by Frank Manning
Juvenile detention is a necessary evil. There are kids who commit crimes and hurt other people. After they are apprehended by police, they are held accountable by the juvenile justice system. In between these two actions by the state, a young offender is usually held in a lockdown detention for juveniles operated by the county or state. Kids who are convicted are sometimes sentenced to spend time in a juvenile prison. The purpose of a juvenile facility—aka juvenile rehabilitation facility, or juvenile correctional facility, or reform school—is rehabilitation rather than punishment and societal retribution. It works that way in most civilized countries. The European countries, the USA and Canada, Australia, Japan, all have juvenile justice systems. None is perfect. Sometimes bad people run them, and some really bad things happen in them.
On Monday, July 25th, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s investigative journalism show “Four Corners” presented an hour-long report on the brutal abuse and mistreatment of boys in juvenile detentions and prisons in Australia’s Northern Territory. The report revealed the shocking truth about the treatment of children behind bars, where young offenders have been stripped naked, assaulted, and tear gassed. The complete report can be watched here. It’s difficult to watch at times. Just gut-wrenching.
One of the boys profiled in the story is Dylan Voller, now 19, who for years was the #1 worst hellion in the remote desert town of Alice Springs, deep in Australia’s Outback. Aboriginal Australians make up almost 20% of the population of Alice Springs, and about a third of the Northern Territory’s people. However, aboriginal children account for 98% of the kids in juvenile detention in the territory.
Dylan Voller is partially of aboriginal descent but seems to me to have a lot of European blood as well. He was born in Adelaide in 1997, and moved to Alice Springs with his sister and their mother in 2006, at the age of eight. Within three years Dylan was already facing assault, theft, and damaging property charges. He was only 11 when he was first sent to detention. He spent the next three years in and out of detention and residential care under territorial guardianship. The boy spiralled out of control. Dylan’s Supreme Court file showed he committed as many as 50 crimes between 2009 and 2014, when he was put behind bars for more than two years for bashing a victim into unconsciousness with a mop handle, beating another and stealing his wallet, and attempting to run over a police officer, all while high on crystal meth.
Dylan spent most of his 13th through 17th years at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, near Darwin. A small boy with a fiery personality, he would curse hardcore at the officers and spit at them. That aggressive behavior landed him in the Behavioral Management Unit, or solitary, many times. During one two-week stint there the guards tear-gassed the BMU after another boy got out of his cell and went on a rampage in the unit. Dylan and four other boys were just sitting in their cells and were badly gassed. Then they were taken outside in handcuffs, forced to lie on the ground, and hosed down with a fire hose.
When he was just 13 Dylan was hurled bodily into a BMU cell. Twice he was stripped naked in an isolation cell when he threatened to kill himself. Sometimes it’s necessary to be forceful with a juvenile detainee. But the violent, abusive way they went about it was totally criminal. It’s really heart-wrenching to see Dylan naked in a cell, crying into his hand, traumatized and terrorized, hurting physically, and left completely alone in that cell to process it all.
Totally soulless of staff. One of them should have stayed in there with him. Basic humanity, for God’s sake!
Still at Don Dale, when Dylan was 17 he threatened once again to kill himself. Spent two hours in a restraint chair, alone and immobilized. I cannot imagine what was going through his already battered mind, as he sat there strapped down, all alone, and with that ghastly hood over his head.
After suffering the abuse at Don Dale, Dylan was moved to the adult prison at Darwin. His older brother has said Dylan has become more positive in the adult facility.
He has started taking courses, is studying for a driver’s license, and has been lining up work for his release. Dylan’s brother’s companion was quoted as saying: “When he gets out he needs to get mental help, he needs to fix the mental problems in his head. Anyone would, who’s gone through the shit he’s gone through.”
There are two more videos of Dylan’s abuse. They are short videos and I have included them for readers who don’t want to spend the time necessary to view the above film.
To be fair, Dylan did threaten suicide and they had to strip him. What I object to is the brutal physical takedown and leaving him alone and distraught afterward. At the facility where I volunteer, years ago they did not respond proactively to three very disturbed children who threatened to commit suicide. They wound up with three dead kids. So yeah, a kid who threatens self-harm must be prevented from being able to do it.
Just be gentle about it!
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