Australia PM calls for investigation into juvenile 'torture'

A teenage boy shown hooded and strapped into a chair Image copyright ABC
Image caption A teenage boy shown hooded and strapped into a chair in 2015

Australia's prime minister has called a royal commission after a TV investigation showed prison guards assaulting boys in juvenile detention.

The Four Corners programme showed footage of teenage offenders stripped naked, assaulted and tear gassed.

One of the boys was hooded and cuffed to a mechanical restraint chair wearing a "spit hood".

The Northern Territory's Attorney General John Elferink has been stripped of his corrections portfolio.

The report raised questions about an institutionalised culture of abuse at corrections centres in the Northern Territory, an administrative district that covers a large part of Australia's north.

'Shocked and appalled'

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the treatment of youths by the Northern Territory corrections system needed a thorough inquiry.

"Like all Australians, I have been deeply shocked, shocked and appalled, by the images of mistreatment at the Don Dale centre," Mr Turnbull said.

"We will be establishing a royal commission into these events, into this centre; we intend to do so jointly with the Northern Territory government.

"We will get to the bottom of what happened here ... we want to know why there were inquiries into this centre which did not turn up the evidence and the information that we saw on Four Corners last night."

What the programme showed

Image copyright ABC
Image caption Video shows a prison guard apparently hitting a juvenile detainee
  • Much of the programme, broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corps (ABC), focused on treatment of a boy who was assaulted, stripped naked and kept in solitary confinement between 2010 and 2012, when he was aged between 13 and 14.
  • At one stage the boy was transferred to an adult prison and strapped to a restraint chair while wearing a hood for almost two hours.
  • The boy was also among a group of six children who were tear gassed at the Don Dale centre in 2014.
  • The Northern Territory corrections system has reportedly been plagued by accusations of mistreatment of offenders and a run of escapes from custody.

'Serious questions'

The Northern Territory's chief minister, Adam Giles, has now taken on responsibility for corrections facilities.

He said the footage left him "shocked and disgusted" and reiterated the call for a royal commission, a high-level independent inquiry.

"A community is judged by the way it treats its children and serious questions were raised by the ABC tonight," Mr Giles said.

He also reiterated his support for the staff working in the Northern Territory's correctional institutions.

"They have a challenging and difficult job, one that not many people wish to do," he said.

"To those officers I want to say, you have my full support for the work that you do in upholding our laws."

Image copyright ABC
Image caption A youth detainee being forcibly stripped by prison guards

'What we need'

Barrister John Lawrence compared the treatment of the children to Guantanamo Bay.

"We're talking about kids that are being shackled with handcuffs on their ankles, their wrists, their waist areas. They're being shackled to chairs," he told Four Corners.

"This is actually happening in Australia in 2016."

The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, praised the decision to investigate mistreatment at the juvenile detention centres.

"I think for the prime minister to respond so quickly with the idea of a royal commission, and possibly an interim report, is exactly what we need," Prof Triggs said.

"If one of us were to have been found to have treated our children in this way we would probably be charged with a criminal offence and the children taken away from us."

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