About 200 people have gathered outside the Don Dale detention centre in Darwin on to call for the release of boys still in detention after being subjected to alleged abuse and mistreatment at the hands of corrections staff.
Organisers of Wednesday night’s vigil said they wanted to keep the momentum going after last week’s Four Corners broadcast footage of young detainees being stripped, thrown to the ground, and in the case of one boy, strapped in a restraint chair with his head covered by a spit-hood.
The boy is now 18 and is detained in the adult prison, where he could still be placed in the restraint chair after the Northern Territory government bowed to public pressure and banned its use, but only on juveniles.
As employees gathered outside the door of the centre, attendees at the vigil organised by Amnesty International heard from speakers who welcomed the royal commission but said action was needed now.
Larrakia elder June Mills said Aboriginal people were “not shocked” by the footage.
“We’ve known this, we’ve lived this every day of our lives.”
Mills said she was shocked all the boys were still alive and called for the release of the youths from the Four Corners program. “They’ve been through enough,” she said. “The system is rotten to the core”.
Mills said the juvenile justice system needed to change and authorities should “talk to the elders across the country”. In the Northern Territory, 97% of those held in juvenile detention are Indigenous.
John Lawrence, a Darwin QC, said children were more easily rehabilitated than adults but the NT government were deliberately choosing not to do that “for reasons of politics and philosophy”.
Lawrence said the Four Corners program had been effective and had “turned this country upside down”.
Jared Sharp, a lawyer with the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, called for the Don Dale facility to be closed and the 25 detainees be moved to a “humane facility” until a new purpose-built juvenile corrections centre was constructed.
He said all those on remand “were not getting therapeutic treatment” and must be released. Sharp wanted “every state and territory to send their experts, their best and brightest” to the NT to help improve the system. He said he was not blaming staff, but that the current agency did not know how to run a place for children.
Donita Jack attended the vigil with her children and her mother, Beverly Seckington. Jack said they attended because “justice was long overdue”.
“Kids are better in community,” she told Guardian Australia. “These kids come here broken”.
Colin Rogan, who spent 10 days in Don Dale when he was 16 and has had brothers inside, said he wanted to see diversionary programs run in conjunction with the military and NT police.