A set of keys to the Northern Territory’s largest youth detention centre are still missing after a group of detainees stole them from a guard and sparked an eight-hour riot.
- Detainees have been at the police watch house for more than a day
- Bail applications were made on behalf of three children
- Authorities do not know when the youth detention centre will reopen
In the early hours of Wednesday, police released tear gas on Don Dale Youth Detention Centre detainees who escaped from their cells, set the facility’s school on fire and used angle grinders to cut fences in an attempt to escape.
Today a Territory Families spokesperson confirmed they had been unable to relocate one set of keys taken from a youth justice officer ahead of the riot, because they had been unable to access the area — which is now a crime scene.
“As soon as Territory Families is able to access the facility, a full-centre sweep of the area will be conducted,” she said.
“Our priority is to locate the set of keys.”
Meanwhile, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency spokesman David Woodroffe said it was able to secure bail for one girl last night.
Bail applications were made for three other children this morning, which are expected to be decided this afternoon.
An application for reconsideration of sentence has been made on behalf of one child.
None of the detainees have yet been charged over the riot.
Detainees remain at watch house
Almost the entire population of the youth detention centre remain at the Darwin police watch house and no plans have been put forward to move them.
Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield said 25 children are at the watch house, while one female detainee was placed in a separate facility.
Despite the facility being out of action, courts are continuing to refer young offenders to the youth justice centre, with another detainee going into custody and straight to the watch house last night.
Ms Wakefield admitted it was not an ideal setting.
“What we’re doing at the moment is making sure we’ve got some other options up our sleeve, which will mean we’ve got some options if it is too long to keep children within the watch house,” she said.
“The emergency plan has always been to use watch house facilities, that is the plan right throughout the Territory.”
Northern Territory Police Association president Paul McCue said the situation was “unacceptable”.
“It’s a short-term holding facility and our police are now the ones having to supervise what are long-term detainees,” he said.
“It’s not acceptable and they need to come up with an alternate solution fairly quickly.”
NT Children’s Commissioner staff visited young people in the watch house and said they will continue to visit every 24 hours.
Moving the detainees to the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre was ruled out as the facility is one short of being at capacity — with 17 young people currently being held there.
The Department of Education is believed to be delivering school work to the young people, and options for exercise “were being assessed”.
Ms Wakefield said the department had been in touch with families and said they had been giving the children access to legal services, although there are only two interview rooms in the watch house.
Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield says her staff have not yet been allowed inside Don Dale. (ABC News: Lucy Marks)
Concerns CCTV server may be destroyed
Ms Wakefield was concerned the facility’s CCTV server may have been destroyed in a fire during the riot.
She and Territory Families chief executive Ken Davies visited Don Dale on Thursday morning, although they were unable to access the buildings as it remained a crime scene.
“From initial screens it does look like there isn’t significant structural damage except to the education building,” Ms Wakefield said.
“However, we are concerned about CCTV because there is a server housed in the education building.
“Until we get in and have a good look at the extent of the damage and how quickly we can get that CCTV up, that will have an impact on how quickly we can get back into the facility.”
‘Why does it keep occurring?’
Territory Families chief executive Ken Davies described the unrest on Tuesday night as an “extreme” incident.
He said the centre was fully staffed on the night.
But Mr McCue, from the NT police union, said the situation should have been avoided entirely.
“We’ve gotta ask the question — why? And why does it keep occurring, and who’s responsible?” he said.
“That’s just simply not good enough. We need a proper facility to avoid these things in the future.”
The Community and Public Sector Union said a recruitment drive had addressed understaffing.
But it said half the staff at Don Dale were inexperienced and training for new officers had been progressively cut from six weeks to four.
“In terms of the young people that were involved, with the young people at this particular incident, there was a combination of very senior staff in there, experienced staff in there along with more junior staff,” Mr Davies said.
“There would have been officers in there that had four weeks’ training.”
He reiterated the challenge of an archaic key system in the facility.
“The doors would need to be completely refitted. Introducing an electronic keying system is just not an option in this facility,” he said.
“We’re going to have to manage it, we’re going to have to work out processes going forward.
“But at the end of the day, we need a new facility that’s modern and contemporary, that allows electronic locking down of areas when incidents occur.”