Indigenous Incarceration: A New Stolen Generation

Kept in a cage, not a peep of natural light, blaring heat vibrating non stop through the concrete hell without a whistle of air or a drip of water. This may sound like a horror story of an animal kept in captivity, an expose on live exports; astoundingly this is how Indigenous children in the Northern Territory are kept in juvenile detention centres.  

It begs the questions how prevalent is this treatment across the country? More than we like to know.

ABC program Four Corners aired unseen CCTV footage from the Don Dale juvenile facility in the Northern Territory just last night. The footage so disturbing, tauntingly violent and awfully confronting that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for a Royal Commission into the mistreatment. If you haven’t seen it you can watch it horror here.

The abuse began for some of the at risk youths as young as 10, and once victimised instigated a pattern of institutionalisation. Stripped and straddled bare naked by burly men and left humiliated in isolation for days on end, a routine of sorts for some young offenders.

Away from home, trapped and tortured by a system bent on violent confrontation rather than rehabilitation.

The incidents aired last night occurred most recently 2014, the systemic abuse reaching back many years further. Although blowing up at the moment this story has been broken time and time again, but it took video footage invading plush lounge rooms across the country for anyone to take notice. Without visual proof Australians find it difficult to ascertain indigenous lives matter.

The youth of these communities are at risk, at their most vulnerable and instead of working to close the gap government actions isolate indigenous children even further. An Amnesty report in 2015 noted 70% of youth in custody in Western Australia are aboriginal. Disproportionate too weak a word for statistics like that.

In WA children are only let out on bail if they can be put into the hands of a responsible parent as deemed by the state, which in the indigenous community takes children into detention centres 53 times more than their non-aboriginal counterparts. Ripped from their homes and thrust into a system that doesn’t care for them nor understand their struggles.

The crux of the damning captures shown was six young boys held in isolation being teargassed. Handheld footage from the officers present shows a distressed 17 year old boy being poked back into his cage with a broom.

One officer threatens to “pulverise the little fucker”, in a show of utter disdain for the boy’s plight. Misconstrued as a riot when in fact it was one young man acting in utter desperation, tortured by the confinement of restriction inflicted upon him.

Supplies gathered from the adult prison and overseen by the head of Correctional Services in the Territory are thrust upon six boys in total. Prison dogs, shackles, tear gas, restraint chairs reminiscent of medieval torture and the unlawful transfer of minors to an adult prison for the night compound into a night of utter terror for the teenagers. Away from home, trapped and tortured by a system bent on violent confrontation rather than rehabilitation.

The US Black Lives Matter has migrated here with Indigenous-Australians joining rallies from Perth to Melbourne just last week.  Resonating with the indigenous community in the face of these injustices across welfare, education, access to services and incarceration; although on our screens today they face the reality with every glance in the mirror.

There is a network of support services working to protect children, The Commonwealth has a Children’s Commissioner in each state and a national Children’s Commissioner. The NT Children’s Commission issued a media release in September 2015 addressing the incidents featured on last night’s program.

Without a viral video we could have gone on ignoring this issue. It doesn’t make the news anymore, it’s an accepted reality that the Indigenous are less fortunate than us.

The teargas incident occurred in August 2014, so little more than an afterthought. But with only reports and recommendations to offer, what is the purpose of such a position if they can’t intervene and save these children?


The footage captured demonstrates a gross Institutional failure. The Department of Corrective Services channelled only $7.83 million of its funding to servicing the Aboriginal community even though they are grossly over-represented in the prison community. Last year alone the cost of confining, torturing and detaining Indigenous Youth cost the state $46.8 million.

Australian history tells the tale of the Stolen Generation as an example of liberation gone awry. The white man’s complex to civilise the savages and steal what little possessions the Indigenous Australian’s still held dear, their children.

But to wash your hands of these crimes leaves the communities ravaged by these actions ill-equipped to deal with the future. Gestures like a royal commission or National Sorry Day provides a pat on the back for Australian’s not faced with the reality, a banner of apology that distracts us from what is still occurring.

Without a viral video we could have gone on ignoring this issue. It doesn’t make the news anymore, it’s an accepted reality that the Indigenous are less fortunate than us. A truth so frightening that we disregard its existence until the reality confronts us head on – children being brutalised and we can’t turn away. 

The Indigenous community is left isolated, a combination of past and present wrongs brewing to a climate of substance abuse, mental health issues, domestic violence, high unemployment and low engagement in education. For a people so skilled in living with the land, what do we expect when we take that from them?

Image source:  Four Corners

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