The ABC understands the Official Visitor told the Territory Families Minister the centre should not be in operation. Photo taken September 15, 2017. (ABC News: Jesse Thompson)
The youth detention centre in Alice Springs is at “crisis point” due to overcrowding and appalling conditions, an independent monitor has warned the Northern Territory Government
- Independent monitor has recommended the facility be shut down, or up to 10 of 24 youth detainees be immediately relocated.
- Detainee found with 20-centimetre piece of metal hatchet could have been used as a weapon or for self harm.
- Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield warned detainees and staff could be at risk.
The ABC understands the Official Visitor, who is appointed by the Government to independently assess the facility, has told Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield the centre should not be in operation.
But if it cannot be shut down, up to 10 of the 24 youths there at the time of the visit should immediately be relocated to Darwin’s Don Dale facility due to extreme overcrowding.
A spokeswoman for Territory Families told the ABC the current bed capacity at the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre was 18, and that there were 16 young people in detention at the facility as of Tuesday.
She said four young people had been transferred to Don Dale and six had been released after appearing in court on Monday.
There have been seven attempted escapes in recent weeks, significant vandalism, assaults on guards and young people have not been outside for three days to exercise, the Official Visitor told the Minister.
Eleven CCTV cameras were not working during the Official Visitor’s assessment, and a log book revealed all security cameras have been offline at times due to technical reasons.
Eleven CCTV cameras were not working during the Official Visitor’s assessment. Photo taken September 15, 2017. (ABC News: Jesse Thompson)
One detainee was found with a 20-centimetre piece of metal that had been vandalised from a door hatch and could have been used as a weapon or for self harm.
Another detainee had gained access to a lighter and burned their name into metal sheeting on the ceiling of their room.
Empty plastic bags that may have contained cannabis were also found in a youth detention centre escort van, and in a detainee’s possession.
Of major concern to the Official Visitor was overcrowding, with one room housing six detainees, even though it only has a capacity for two.
Alice Springs, Don Dale detention centres a ‘powder keg’
There have been ongoing concerns within youth detention facilities across the Northern Territory since the Royal Commission into Youth Detention and Child Protection — including the alleged rape of a detainee and a series of other violent incidents — in what the Community and Public Service Union has labelled a “crisis”.
In February, the Government announced it would spend $70 million replacing both the Don Dale detention centre in Darwin and the Alice Springs youth detention facility.
“[Alice Springs detention facility] needs to close. We know that, the royal commission told us that,” said Ruth Barson, director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre.
“It’s abundantly clear from this report and the numerous reports we’ve seen over the past weeks and months, that both the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre and Don Dale are powder kegs.”
Ms Barson said the independent monitor’s warning should serve as a “wake-up call” for the Gunner Government as it seeks to implement youth justice reforms.
‘This is not the reform process our Government is aiming for’
Minister for Territory Families Dale Wakefield said the independent monitor’s report, received “a couple of weeks ago”, prompted a shake-up of her department that saw the management of youth justice stripped from its deputy chief executive, Jeanette Kerr.
She said four children at the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre had since been transferred to Don Dale.
Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield has been warned the facility should be shut down. (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)
“I’ve made it very clearly that I haven’t been satisfied with some of the circumstances at Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre and that’s why we’ve taken action,” Ms Wakefield said.
“I’ve given the CEO very clear directions … including moving children where necessary to Darwin.”
The Minister did not directly respond to questions around individual incidents raised by the independent monitor, but reiterated the Government held “serious concerns” over “unacceptable things” happening at the facility, and had made clear directions “that this is not the reform process our government is aiming for”.
“I have asked [the Official Visitor] to increase her visitation over the next few weeks so we can have that oversight on a more regular basis,” Ms Wakefield said.
A spokeswoman for Territory Families said in a statement that CEO Ken Davies had visited the centre the day before the Official Visitor, “and shared her concerns”.
“The CEO made the decision for the number of young people detained at the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre to be now been capped at 18,” the spokeswoman said.
“When this capacity is reached young people will be transferred to Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in consultation with their families and their legal representative.”
She said that re-configuration and expansion of the facility allowed for maximum 15 males in eight rooms, and maximum three females in three rooms.
“There is a new female wing extension to the existing [detention] precinct which is separate and secure from the males’ area,” she said.
She also said that new recruit training “has been modulised and sequenced so that the new staff for Alice Springs and Darwin can commence on Monday August 6”.