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Children teargassed in NT youth justice centre -

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MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Children stripped naked, teargassed and strapped into mechanical devices - it sounds unbelievable but this has been the reality of the Northern Territory's youth justice system.

A Four Corners investigation, set to air tonight, includes never before seen vision of one of the darkest incidents in the history of youth detention in Australia: the tear gassing of six children held in isolation at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin in August 2014.

The program documents a pattern of abuse, deprivation and punishment of vulnerable children in youth detention.

Elise Worthington reports.

JAKE ROPER: Yeah, but I've been BEEP stuck in there for how long?

PRISON STAFF: Have you had time out or not?

ELISE WORTHINGTON: The 14 year old boy being heard here has been held alone for 15 days in a dark, hot cell for 23 hours a day.


(Jake yelling)

ELISE WORTHINGTON: Jake Roper has lost all sense of time and has just been told he won't be getting out any time soon.

PRISON STAFF: Can he get through that door though? Is he able to open the doors?


ELISE WORTHINGTON: The events that unfolded on the 21st August 2014 were recorded by guards on duty at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin.

PRISON STAFF: Yeah, it's recording. It says record.

ELISE WORTHINGTON: CCTV shows the boy breaking out of his cell, which has accidentally been left unlocked.

Trapped inside the small enclosed concrete exercise yard of the centre's isolation wing, the frustrated boy repeatedly rams the exit door.

ELISE WORTHINGTON: Media reports at the time described this incident as a "riot".

It was said several boys escaped their cells and threatened staff with weapons.

The vision obtained by Four Corners shows otherwise.

PRISON STAFF: How many's out? I think there's only one.

ELISE WORTHINGTON: The five other boys were locked in their cells.

CCTV footage shows two calmly playing cards and watching as Jake tries to climb out a window.

PRISON STAFF 1: If he tries to get in, poke him back through.

PRISON STAFF 1: No, let the (beep) come through because while he's coming through he'll be off balance, I'll pulverise him, I'll pulverise the little (beep).

ELISE WORTHINGTON: Eventually the decision was made to spray tear gas into the enclosed area.

(Boys coughing)

PRISON STAFF: Watch out watch out!

PRISON STAFF 2: Oh, they're using chemicals.

ELISE WORTHINGTON: The security vision shows 10 sprays of teargas into the area.

(Gas spraying)

ELISE WORTHINGTON: The boys can be heard screaming, coughing, and gasping for air.

ELISE WORTHINGTON: Prison officers storm through the door wearing gas masks and drag the children outside, spraying them with a hose.

BOY: I can't breathe!

PRISON STAFF: Keep breathing.

ELISE WORTHINGTON: The incident has been the subject of two reports - a government instigated independent report and another released last year by the Northern Territory children's commissioner.

NT Corrections Minister John Elferink told Four Corners the Government has learned from the incident.

JOHN ELFERINK: It was a system that needed improvement. It had, it was a system that had fundamental problems, which is why I've worked so hard to improve it and it has been improved.

COLLEEN GWYNNE: We still remain concerned that the response has not been as urgent as we would have liked.

ELISE WORTHINGTON: The Northern Territory Children's Commissioner Colleen Gwynne says more needs to be done.

COLLEEN GWYNNE: I would like to see a more full response and I guess some urgency and some dedicated resources thrown at this to ensure that we are never put in that situation again.

ELISE WORTHINGTON: It appears the incident has not been an isolated one.

Four Corners has also obtained shocking accounts of mistreatment spanning a period of five years, all inflicted on vulnerable children being held in the Northern Territory.

Barrister John Lawrence:

JOHN LAWRENCE: They were also subjected to manhandling, handcuffing, shackling, spit hooding, the likes of which when I discovered this I quite literally could not believe what I was hearing. I couldn't think for the life of me that that could occur in Australia in 2016.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Lawyer John Lawrence ending Elise Worthington's report. And the full story can be seen on Four Corners tonight on ABC television.