Urgent UN intervention sought on the mistreatment of young people in NT youth justice facility

The Human Rights Law Centre has sent an urgent request to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to investigate the mistreatment of young people (under 18 years) in Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, the Northern Territory’s main youth justice facility.

Last week the Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner released a report detailing cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment inside the youth detention facility, in response to an incident where a young person, who was being held in conditions amounting to solitary confinement, escaped his cell after it was left open by a guard. The treatment outlined included:
-       prolonged solitary confinement;
-       the use of dogs and tear gas; and
-       restraint practices such as hooding and cuffing of young people.

There are reports that similar punitive treatment is continuing.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Senior Lawyer, Ruth Barson, said that such practices are in clear breach of international human rights law. 

“The Northern Territory has the highest rate of youth imprisonment in the country. Over 95 percent of the youth detention population in the Northern Territory is Indigenous. It’s deeply concerning that these young people are exposed to harmful practices like prolonged solitary confinement and hooding, which completely undermine their chances of rehabilitation. Worse, the Corrections Commissioner has defended the mistreatment,” said Ms Barson.

“The lack of accountability for human rights breaches is alarming. Beyond the actual incident, the Children’s Commissioner report details a situation where the Minister was misinformed; the Police were provided with false information; the public was misled; and court orders were not followed,” said Ms Barson.

The Human Rights Law Centre has asked the Special Rapporteur to take urgent action, with a view to ensuring the Northern Territory Government comply with its international human rights law obligations, and in particular:
-       stop using harmful practices including prolonged solitary confinement, naked isolation, spit hoods, excessive restraints;
-       ensure all young detainees have access to rehabilitation and education programs; and
-       ensure young people are detained in youth appropriate facilities, with an adequately trained workforce.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture earlier this year tabled a report outlining the current international benchmarks expected of countries when it comes to detaining young people.

“Young people in detention are particularly vulnerable. We’ve asked the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to take urgent action to protect the human rights of young detainees in the Northern Territory,” said Ms Barson.

The request is available here.

For further comment contact Ruth Barson: 0417 773 037