A grey concrete building with guard tower, seen through razor wire fencing.

Good news: Dylan Voller released early on bail

Dylan Voller, a boy who was tortured at Don Dale detention centre, has been released on bail from prison eight months early, to participate in a youth rehabilitation program.

What happened?

Dylan Voller shot to national attention as one of the young boys abused and tortured by NT juvenile detention centre guards, as exposed by Four Corners. The image of the young man, hooded and strapped to a restraint chair sparked a national outcry from the public.

Dylan at Bushmob with his nephew, 2017. Photo credit: Kirra Voller

On Monday 6 February, 19-year-old Dylan was released on bail from prison to take part in a rehabilitation program in Alice Springs. Dylan will complete a sixteen-week placement at the BushMob program, which helps young people get their lives back on track.

In December, the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory heard from Antoinette Carroll, a youth justice advocacy project coordinator at the Central Australian Legal Aid Service (CAALAS), who said there had been “an overwhelming lack of therapeutic support in place” for Dylan ever since his entry into the prison system.

“Sadly, diversion wasn’t really made available to him, and it should have been, given the low level of his offending. Young people need love and someone to talk to, not to be locked in a cell with nothing to do for days on end.”

In a letter Dylan read out to the Royal Commission, he states “I would like to thank everyone all over the world for you kind words of support. It means a lot.”  

“Young people need love & someone to talk to, not to be locked in a cell with nothing to do for days on end.”

How did Amnesty respond?

Amnesty International Australia has repeatedly raised concerns about tear gassing and other abuses in Northern Territory youth detention centres, and in the past five years has also responded to similar serious allegations in two other states.

We have been calling for youth detention centres to be independently inspected by Australia ratifying the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). Australia is currently a signatory to OPCAT, but has not yet ratified it. Ratification would mean Australia has to set up a mechanism for independent inspections and reporting on detention centres.

Dylan’s letter submitted as evidence to the Northern Territory Royal Commission

The issue in depth

On 26 July 2016, ABC’s Four Corners Program screened footage from the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin, Northern Territory which showed prison officials abusing and torturing detained teenage boys from 2010 to 2015.

In a series of scenes, boys were knocked to the floor and verbally abused, or forcibly stripped and then left naked and alone in locked rooms. Some were kept locked in their cells for almost 24 hours a day with no running water and little natural light. Other footage shows detained Indigenous children being tear gassed.

One particular video shows Dylan being hooded and strapped to a restraint chair after he was deemed at risk of self-harm. The practice of hooding, most notably used at Guantanamo Bay and in the Abu Ghraib prison camp, constitutes a form of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

After the footage of the abuse aired, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered a Royal Commission into the abuse at the detention centres. Now 19, Dylan has been giving evidence as part of the Royal Commission.

In 2015–2016, Indigenous young people were 24 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous young people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people make up about six per cent of the Australian population of 10 to 17-year-olds, but more than half (54 per cent) of those in detention.

What’s next?

Amnesty International will continue calling for leadership from the Prime Minister in addressing the over-representation of Indigenous kids in prisons, including funding community-led programs like Bushmob to help kids avoid the justice system and rehabilitate where they have been in detention.

We’ll be closely following the Northern Territory Royal Commission and asking the Federal Government to use its findings to form a national plan through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous kids in Australian prisons.

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Roxanne Moore, Indigenous Rights Campaigner

What supporters are saying

  1. Ita
    12 February 2017 | 12:47 pm

    Find what works it is better to prevent and much less costly for governments and better for the community.

  2. carolyn alexander
    24 February 2017 | 7:26 am

    Thank you for your diligent work. Another area for Australia to be ashamed and to get their act together and fund appropriate programmes in the NT and wherever needed not just for remedy but for prevention.

  3. Nicolette Boaz
    24 February 2017 | 8:40 am

    We as a country have no dignity whilst we treat our youth in this appalling manner. Help at that age will give better outcomes and is cheaper than incarceration.

  4. Kerrie Barry
    24 February 2017 | 8:54 am

    Instead of the huge expense of locking up young indigenous children the governments should enable enough money to be used for Rehabilitation programs and skills training.

  5. Jim KABLE
    24 February 2017 | 8:59 am

    Thank goodness for 4-Corners and its unsullied reputation for shining its spotlight on Don Dale – that light piercing through the darkness of the many other “Don Dale” institutions across Australia. I’d like to remember Tony VINSON (Vale!) at this point, too – for all his own exposures of the madness which is our prison system in general. It is good to think that Dylan is now with BushMob and I wish him all the very best in his future. I sometimes think to myself that if all politicians were made personally accountable for the failures of their office, of their ministerial responsibilities – with huge fines and gaol terms that we would see major changes in the way we look after our citizens – education and health and justice!

  6. Virginia Carey
    24 February 2017 | 9:15 am

    Diversion and early prevention are far more effective than the ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ response. Young people in remote and indigenous communities need better access to resources and services.

  7. Susan Durrant
    24 February 2017 | 9:43 am

    My thoughts are good healthy bush training appreciation of wild life training theses young people is a priority

  8. Dymphna
    24 February 2017 | 10:24 am

    I have been shocked beyond belief that kids Dyllan have been subjected to torture as shown in Four Corners.I am ashamed that Australia çan descend to such lows. I trust Dylancanget his life back and that the Royal commission can come up with significant safeguards for the future of our indigenous people and that the NT government implements the recommendations that ensure human rights for our young indigenous persons. Dymphna LAURIE AM

  9. Judi Storer
    24 February 2017 | 10:35 am

    The Coalition is guilty of sheer stupidity on a grand scale. They would rather pay the huge sums to lock up vulnerable children, than invest in programs to keep these vulnerable children out of jail in the first place. Where justice reinvestment programs are being rolled out, and have huge success, all over the world, what does our Coalition government do – they remove the carrot and get out the big stick and take the big stick to vulnerable disadvantaged children. Instead of connecting with abused and vulnerable children, in order to address the reasons for their offending, the Coalition government thinks it best to abuse them even more, in horrendous juvenile correction centres, and then set even more disturbed children loose in the community after even more years of abuse behind them – in this case perpetrated by the Coalition government. Is there not one single brain within this Coalition government???

  10. Caroline
    24 February 2017 | 10:50 am

    Everything seems to be about cost. Prevention is cheaper. Both for the government and in terms of the damage done to young lives.
    Please fund the programs that give young people a chance to get back on track.
    Shame on us that this abuse is happening here in Australia!

  11. Irene Tognetti
    24 February 2017 | 11:04 am

    Government owes Dykan Voller all funding necessary for rehabilitation after extreme child cruelty

  12. Margret Egger
    24 February 2017 | 11:19 am

    Absolutely great news to learn that Dylan Voller has finally been released from that horror place he and others are forced to experience, deep shame on our Australian legal system! Thank you Dylan for your gratious and beautiful letter. You and others have deep wounds left from past sufferings. I am so extremely glad and thankful that initiatives / Programs like “Bush Mob” and other supportive programs are organised and led by outstanding Australians, led by Indigenous, real model leaders who will help Dylan in magnificent ways to find his way to live a worthwhile and fulfilling life. Thank you all involved in such productive work.
    Our ‘out of touch’ government authorities are an absolute disgrace, if they are unwilling to recognise not just the emotional value programs like Bush Mob deliver to all involved, but ultimately save huge amounts of expenses that are involved in jail operations. So what on , if they consider earth makes our politicians tick, if they consider not to financially support you 100+ %. Please keep up you excellent work, we’ll try our best to back you and send strenght , courage and energy waves your way. Thank you all.

  13. Susan Buchanan
    24 February 2017 | 12:02 pm

    Funding of diversionary and educational programs seems a no-brainer. It would be a great deal more efficacious and probably much less expensive than building prisons to discipline (torture) young offenders.

  14. Susan Buchanan
    24 February 2017 | 12:04 pm

    Funding of diversionary and educational programs seems a much more reasonable idea than imprisoning young offenders with no remediation for their problems.

  15. Leni
    24 February 2017 | 12:14 pm

    Why do we not treat everyone the same to start with and use extra or special methods only if needed. ALL children should attend school to learn and have the opportunity to make a good life for themselves. To learn skills that reach the top level of their ability and become good and beneficial members of their community. In Australia there is so much potential for everyone if we provide the right environment. Let’s stop dividing people and treat everyone the same. If people don’t have the right attitude and can’t be convinced then that is their problem and they will have to face the consequences but at least let’s give everyone the chance.

  16. Sybil Pliner
    24 February 2017 | 12:15 pm

    Adolescents who express their desperation through anger & violence are further entrenched into that mode of behavior when they are treated with anger & violence in detention. They need to be taken out of that toxic situation – diversions therapy, a sympathetic ear & activities they enjoy will go much further to rehabilitate them than harsh detention & deprivation.

  17. Kate Forster
    24 February 2017 | 12:16 pm

    Meeting kids needs ASAP will be easier and more cost effective and meet community needs for safety – the evidence supports proactive early intervention and supportive systems

  18. Clancette Clift
    24 February 2017 | 12:18 pm

    NO ONE should ever be tortured !
    Torture serves no useful purpose. Torturers torture for sadistic pleasure or for their wages. There are NO benefits from torture or cruelty. EVER

  19. Helen Bayes
    24 February 2017 | 12:22 pm

    Well done, Dylan. You have shown great courage. I and many others wish you all the best.

  20. nancy kennedy
    24 February 2017 | 12:39 pm

    Torture of any kind is reprehensible. Torture of children, by those in authority, in Australia, is UNTHINKABLE. Here I am, writing letters to China, to Iran, to Africa etc about oppression and look what is happening in my home country! How can I raise my voice with any authority?

  21. Anna
    24 February 2017 | 1:44 pm

    There are countries who have had success. Please study them, and copy their choices. Our young people deserve help. All people deserve love, attention, food, shelter, and care and concern. Thank goodness Dylan has had those things. Let’s give those things to everybody.

  22. Jean Hart
    24 February 2017 | 2:17 pm

    Divert funds currently spent on punishing young people to credible rehabilitation programs. Our common goal could be to become truly imaginative in treating others as we would wish to be treated.

  23. Anna Takagaki
    24 February 2017 | 3:13 pm

    The public outcry following the airing of Dylan Voller’s experiences in juvenile detention proves that the Australian people still believe in a second chance and want a better future for everybody. Incarceration is not rehabilitation, and we are seeing that violence against prisoners is only exacerbating the problems and circumstances that place them in the justice industry to begin with. That’s right, industry, not system. Diversion programs for both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians need to be considered for better and more consistent funding. I believe the reasons for this are two-fold. One, it will decrease the burden on crowded prisons for lesser crimes; Two, diversion programs work. If combating recidivism is a serious goal of our government, then diversion programs should be funded.

  24. Rosemarie Draper
    24 February 2017 | 3:38 pm

    I completely agree that additional funding for authentic community led rehab programs are needed. I did a child protection locum in the NT a while ago and was in and out of the Darwin Magistrates court with one of the young men who was featured being tear gassed on the 4 Corners program. The lack of options for appropriate rehabilitation and support that were available were in my opinion one of the major reasons that this gorgeous young man and many of his peers ended up in the ‘revolving door’ of the juvenile justice system, bouncing back from home to out of home care to court to detention over and over again! Australia should be ashamed of allowing this to continue and conscious of the waste of both public funds and young precious lives that continues to occur.

  25. jenny Roemermann
    24 February 2017 | 5:21 pm

    As a retire social worker and family counsellor and nurse it is a condemnation of modern society that we still have such primitive attitudes in dealing with offences in the community I fully support rehabilitation programs to listen, support and encourage cooperative behaviour but with an ethical and compassionate process and support for staffalso

  26. Rosalie
    24 February 2017 | 7:00 pm

    Not only for themselves do young Indigenous kids need access to this support, but as a way to ensure that Indigenous knowledge is held and strengthened.

    Only Indigenous elders hold 40000 years of knowledge of Australia. What a travesty that so many of their kids are locked up.

  27. EILEEN THORPE
    25 February 2017 | 9:03 am

    I was horrified when I saw the torture of Dylan. I did not think we did that sort of thing in Australia. The project for these children should be well and truly given the amount needed to give them a chance in life . It will be less costly in the long run when these children become contributing citizens in our society. It is all about Human rights.

  28. Joan. McDonald
    25 February 2017 | 2:35 pm

    Yes, absolutely. We must ensure there is enough funding for these life changing programs. Can’t the governments understand the economics of the situation? By giving these young offenders the right support and direction now, will save the government so much more money later, by preventing the need for more prisons, more jailers and will ensure productive, good citizens and a happier community.

  29. ann poynter
    26 February 2017 | 9:07 am

    properly researched rehab programs required

  30. Vivienne Daniels
    28 February 2017 | 1:59 pm

    I really appreciate the feedback re results of our actions within Amnesty activities

  31. Dana Sang
    1 March 2017 | 2:12 pm

    Since 4 Corners, Amnesty and others who shone a torch on Dylan’s traumatic situation who has recently been released from Detention, it shows Australians are pulling together to stop abuse of indigenous boys. Dylan is doing very well under the guidance of indigenous Bush Mob very pleased for him.

  32. Richard De Martin
    10 March 2017 | 9:53 pm

    “If you don’t know where you come from , how are you supposed to know where you’re going!” speaks for itself, there must be investment in turning Indigenous kids back onto culture and traditional learning!

  33. ron faber
    19 April 2017 | 8:02 pm

    Now he copped the treatment he dished out&wants to cry. Wat about the victims he brutally assaulted, bashed&robbed in a disgusting, cowardly manner. Treatment at centre may have been over done, but they cry when the shoe is on the other foot; when they have to walk in the victims shoes

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