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Four Corners -

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Sarah Ferguson: Welcome to Four Corners.

The image you have just seen isn't from Guantanamo bay.... or Abu Ghraib... but Australia in 2015... A boy, hooded, shackled, strapped to a chair and left alone. It is barbaric.

This is juvenile justice in the Northern Territory, a system that punishes troubled children instead of rehabilitating them - where children as young as 10 are locked up and 13 year olds are kept in solitary confinement.

Most of the images secured by Four Corners in this investigation have never been seen publicly. They are shocking - but for the sake of these children who are desperate for the truth to be known, we cannot look away.

Caro Meldrum Hanna reports.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: It's August 2014.

Inside the Don Dale youth detention centre...behind this grey door...six boys are being held in the isolation wing.

As evening approaches...inside the Behavioural Management Unit....

A 14 year old boy is trying to get out of his tiny concrete cell.

For 36 minutes CCTV records the boy, using a broken light fitting...trying again and again to open the door.

One of the guards on duty this afternoon...has forgotten to lock it.

The boy has been kept in solitary confinement ...for 23 and a half hours a day...for 15 days straight.

He's lost all sense of time.

And he's deeply distressed.

Boy E: I've been in the back cells for how long bruz?!

Officer: Have you had time out or not?

Boy E: Yeah but I've been fuckin' stuck in there for how long?!

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The boy's been asking the guards - repeatedly, for weeks - why he's being kept in solitary confinement...

And when he's going to be released from his dark, hot, stinking cell.

Officer: That doors not going to hold.

Officer: He's supposed to be getting out next week.

Officer: Yeah.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: On the other side of the reinforced door...

A group of prison officers is at the ready.

Officer: Fuckin' idiot.

Officer: He's an idiot bro.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The officers on duty tonight are heard laughing at the boy's anguish.

Officer: I hope it's recording?

Officer: Yeah it is recording, it says record.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The boy has been pushed to breaking point.

He and five others, aged between 14 and 17 locked in the cells behind him...have been deprived of the most basic human necessities, no natural light, kept in appalling conditions.

CCTV obtained by Four Corners shows some of the boys literally climbing the walls...repeatedly carving their names into the some cells, two boys crammed in...unable to walk around at all.

Jared Sharp, Lawyer, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency: Those cells were ghoulish, they were something medieval.

Dr Howard Bath, former NT Children's Commissioner: They were kept in those cells for up to twenty-four hours a day.

Peter O'Brien, Solicitor: They had no running water, the only water in the cell was in the toilet.

Jared Sharp: So they couldn't even wash their hands, they had to request water. They had to eat food with their hands.

Dr Howard Bath: Extremely hot conditions um. No air-conditioning, no fans, no direct breeze flowing into that unit.

Peter O'Brien: Reeked of urine and shit.

Dr Howard Bath: You know even the staff were referring to them as revolting conditions.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna, Reporter: How were they? How how were the boys in there?

Jared Sharp: Um.

Peter O'Brien: I mean it must have been sheer hell, sheer hell.

Boy E: Fuck you! Fuck!

Officer: If he tries to get in, poke him back through.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Protesting against his confinement...the frustrated child starts ramming doors and smashing windows...

While five boys watch from inside their cells.

How prison management responded beggars belief.

Officer: Go, go grab the fuckin' gas and fuckin' gas them through fuckin', get Jimmy to gas them through here.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: This is the sound of six children being tear-gassed at close range.

Boy E: I can't fuckin' breathe.

Officer: Now he's shitting himself.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Gassed for up to 8 minutes...

The boys are shackled, dragged outside and sprayed with a fire hose.

Boy E: Nah, don't put it in my mouth, I can't breathe!

Boy: Hey, we didn't do anything in there.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: A few hours later ... Don Dale management told police that multiple boys had escaped from their cells...and armed themselves with weapons.

Portraying the incident to the media, as a violent riot.

ABC News Report, 24 August 2014: Six prisoners young men between 14 and 17 years old escaped their cells and armed themselves with glass from smashed windows and broken light fittings.

Minister John Elferink, Minister for Correctional Services: When kids arms themselves with broken glass, when kids arm themselves with metal bars, then reasonable force has be brought to bear upon them to subdue them.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Prison authorities weren't telling the truth.

Jared Sharp: One of those aspects of this issue that's the most concerning is that there was a deliberate effort to misinform the public about what occurred.

Dr Howard Bath: There wasn't a riot. A riot is an un- unlawful assembly. Only one young person was assembled. He was outside of his cell but he was still in a secure area.

Peter O'Brien: So he let loose, it was one boy carrying on in a manner of expression that he had and that was it, that is all he had, it was not a riot.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: This is the boy that got out of his cell...and led the so-called riot.

His name is Jake Roper.

He's bravely decided to go public, and tell his side of the story.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Hey Jake, Caro, nice to meet you.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Why have you decided to speak up about what happened?

Jake Roper: Just tellin' the truth and what really happened and yeah make sure it doesn't happen to any other young people. I was getting treated like an animal basically because of all the stuff they did to me.

Jake Roper hasn't been able to forget his time in Don Dale.

Jake Roper: This is the size of my cell I was staying in.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Now 16, he's haunted by disturbing memories...

Jake Roper: Well I get flashbacks sometimes, just couldn't believe it was this small.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: How did it feel being in a very small space?

Jake Roper: It was tempting to do stuff because I had a lot of stuff on my mind. Like I felt angry at some times, I felt depressed at some times, I felt alone and yeah…

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: In June 2014...Jake Roper was in Don Dale for the first time in his life...for stealing a car when he was homeless.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: When you went to Don Dale, did you know what to expect?

Jake Roper: No not really

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Were you scared?

Jake Roper: Yeah

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What were you scared of?

Jake Roper: Um Just what other people tell me about what Don Dale was like. Um how the guards treat them. Yeah.

Jake Roper escaped from Don Dale. Recaptured and returned, he was placed in the isolation unit along with four other escapees.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: One of them, was 16 year old Ethan Austral.

Ethan Austral: Like sometimes when I wake up I'd be there in the same spot.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Ethan Austral has been in and out of Don Dale since he was just 11 years old...for a series of break and enters and car thefts. He's spent six of his past seven birthdays behind bars.

He's now recovering at Bush Mob in Alice Springs...a treatment facility for at-risk kids.

We spoke to him over Skype.

Ethan Austral: Waking up in that cell was shit. We was going mad, been kept in there for too long.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Are these kids bad?

Sue Oliver, Managing Judge, Youth Justice Court: There are kids that do bad things, really bad things, but the idea that a young person is a bad person I think it a very misplaced view of young people.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Well if they aren't bad kids, bad people what are they?

Judge Sue Oliver: They're very damaged. They're very damaged children.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Tonight, Judge Sue Oliver is breaking ranks.

Speaking out against the harsh treatment of children in detention in the Northern Territory.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Do you ever worry about a young person when you send them off to Don Dale?

Judge Sue Oliver: Yes I do, I do. Of course I do.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What do you worry about?

Judge Sue Oliver: I worry about how that's going to affect them. I worry that it's not solving the problem.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Kenny Rogan was 10 years old when he first went to prison...after his 21 year old friend made him to set fire to a motorbike.

When Kenny Rogan arrived at Don Dale, he says he was dragged into his cell by his underwear...and threatened by one of the guards.

Kenny Rogan: He told me there were rapists in there and he'll put me in a call with them if I don't keep in line.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: When your son returned that first time from Don Dale, had he changed?

Colin Rogan: Yes definitely, he seemed a lot more quieter not as happy and his demeanour changed. Very withdrawn, didn't want to talk, lost a lot of weight, yeah I was not happy to see him in that condition.

John B. Lawrence: What's going on with children in detention here is a deliberate punitive cruel policy, prosecuted by the Minister responsible and his cohorts, no doubt, and supported by his political advisors. So it's not an accident, it's not inadvertence, eh it- it's not indifference, it's a deliberate policy that has led to the catastrophe which is occurring behind walls as you interview me now.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The Minister Minister John Elferink.

Minister John Elferink: I am the Minister for Corrections not the Minister for kicking the shit out of people. And hopefully we can actually create an environment that actually corrects. There you go. You want a ride back into town now or what?

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: I have my own ride thanks, thankyou very much, Minister.

Minister John Elferink: I thought you wanted to have a go on a bike that's all.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The Harley Davidson riding Corrections Minister took us inside the children's prison...

Firstly, to the old Don Dale.

Minister John Elferink: Please come through. I just wanted to show you a couple of things. It smells like something's been burning in here.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: It does.

Minister John Elferink: And this of course is one of the rooms you're interested in.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: This is the BMU?

Minister John Elferink: We get these kids ah in these environments and they come to us fundamentally pre-broken by choice, by dint of their socioeconomic circumstances, their families, whatever.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Two months the Alice Springs children's prison...

An agitated Dylan Voller is seen pacing his tiny cell. He's threatened self-harm.

Leaning against the wall, he's playing with a pack of cards.

Watch what three guards do to him next.

Peter O'Brien: No matter what the reason for them coming into that room and for no- no matter what the reason for them wanting him to take off his clothes or be naked or what- whatever the hell they were doing what on earth do you think was going through that kid's mind? That kid at that time who is a- has his, his bare naked buttocks exposed and in a manner where he's being held down in such a- in such an intimidating and brutal fashion, one can only think.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: And after Dylan Voller was stripped naked and he was in his gown what do you see that young boy doing?

Dr Howard Bath: I see someone in great distress.

Dr Howard Bath: I found that a humiliating procedure and if it wasn't so tragic it would be farcical because it's actually called the at-risk procedure. It is used when a child is considered to be at risk of suicide for instance um. I cannot see how traumatising a young person like that can be in any way therapeutic.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: In 2011...again in Alice Springs...

Another incident. This one, the most brazen of all...with multiple witnesses...including other child detainees.

Dylan Voller is making a telephone call.

When the guard motions for the boy to hand the phone over, he leans away.

Watch how Dylan Voller is punished.

Kneed, then knocked to the floor.

Six months later...Dylan Voller, now 14, is pacing another tiny cell...he's in isolation again.

Crying into his singlet...three guards enter.

Throw him to the floor...and forcefully strip him naked.

In Don Dale...

Dylan Voller is held face down for three minutes in a hog-tie guards strip his cell...the officer is recorded straddling the child...Then...he applies his full bodyweight with both knees on the child's back.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What sort of Youth Justice system is that?

Dr Howard Bath: Well it's certainly one that is absolutely failing and it's ending up re-abusing young people.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: In 2012, Dr Howard bath investigated, writing a confidential report.

It details the prolonged mistreatment of Dylan Voller.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The report has never been made public and Dr Bath is legally unable to disclose the details.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: So the authorities knew as early as 2012 the authorities the Government knew of excessive force, inappropriate solitary confinement of children in detention?

Dr Howard Bath: Yes.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: And nothing was done?

Dr Howard Bath: As far as I know nothing was done.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Well how do you respond to that?

Dr Howard Bath: Well I find that appalling um.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Ethan Austral is one of several boys who've told us that Dylan Voller - a known spitter with a bad mouth - has continued to be targeted by guards inside Don Dale.

Ethan Austral: They wanted me to bash Dylan. I said no that's my mate and they left me alone.

Ethan Austral: They got other detainees to throw hot water on Dylan and spit at him when he was down in the BMU.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: So the guards got other detainees, children to throw hot water?

Ethan Austral: Yeah. And spit at him.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: On the 16th of August 2014...Five days before the boys were tear gassed...

CCTV records youth justice officers entering the isolation unit.

Guard: Are we a lot calmer?

Dylan Voller: Yeah.

Guard: How are you going to spend the rest of your night?

Guard: Nice and quiet?

Guard: Not much fun, hey?

Dylan Voller: Nah.

Ruth Barson, Senior Lawyer, Human Rights Law Centre: Just pacing like he's in a cage.

Megan Mitchell, National Children's Commissioner: That's what the boys say, they're like animals in those confined spaces.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: Prior to going to air...Four Corners presented some the material we've obtained to the National Children's Commissioner Megan Mitchell, and human rights lawyer Ruth Barson.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: What have you just watched?

Ruth Barson: Utterly inexcusable behaviour I think it's unequivocally a breach of the Convention Against Torture and Mistreatment and a breach against the convention on the rights of the child. And Caro they haven't just been breached once they've as we've seen they've been breached over multiple years.

Megan Mitchell: I just cannot imagine that anybody would treat other human beings like that and particularly children and they are in the care of the state who is being a proxy parent.

Megan Mitchell: It's just what we are seeing as well it's clearly a culture of aggression violence disrespect.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: The National Children's Commissioner Megan Mitchell has inspected the New Don Dale.

She's now calling for the facility to be shut down for good.

Megan Mitchell: Any government running these facilities should really take a good hard look about whether this is salvageable as a facility and I don't think it is.

Now, there are calls for the Federal Government to intervene.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna: You are calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to intervene?

John B. Lawrence: Absolutely. Stop it now. It has to stop. How can any country that claims to be civilised have a system of juvenile detention which includes what we've just described here? It's just untenable.