The Northern Territory government has decided to close down the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, but this closure will not fix the underlying problems with youth detention.
Back in July 2016 there was instant public outrage when the mistreatment of children in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre came to light.
People were calling for the closure of the Don Dale centre and other places like it that abuse young children.
Public pressure and the Four Corners report that sparked the outrage forced Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to call a Royal Commission, just hours after the story had been released.
The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory reported that “shocking and systemic failures occurred over many years and were known and ignored at the highest levels”.
The Commission found that the Northern Territory government failed to provide the children with any real opportunities for rehabilitation and denied them their basic human rights.
In the prison the children were, on multiple occasions, subjected to verbal and physical abuse, denied food and water, bribed by the guards and sexually assaulted.
When the findings of the Royal Commission were delivered in mid-November 2017, the Commissioners told the Northern Territory government to immediately close down the facility.
We should welcome the closing of Don Dale and many of the other recommendations made by the Royal Commission, but the solutions that the government will implement will only be a band-aid to a bullet wound.
Some commentators have said that what happened at Don Dale is an example of the system failing. But what happened at Don Dale wasn’t an anomaly. This is exactly how prisons are designed to work.
From America’s private prisons to the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island, the mistreatment of mostly working class, young and poor people by the so-called justice system is nothing new.
The Royal Commission and the closing of one of these jails will not address the fact that the capitalist system only succeeds when ordinary people are set up to fail. Capitalism promotes winners and losers and many of those who fall through the cracks end up in prison.
The horrific abuses certainly aren’t limited to the Northern Territory or Don Dale. Children and young people in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia have reported similar abuse.
All those involved in allowing and covering up the abuses at youth detention centres across the country must be held to account.
All youth detention centres need to be investigated and we need to entirely re-evaluate the way we treat children and young people who have committed crimes.
Many studies indicate that the most effective way to deal with these young people is to place them into culturally appropriate community based diversionary programs, rather than prisons.
Funding must be put into rehabilitation for those who commit crimes and not into abuse masked as punishment.
Major investments into the communities and into housing, jobs and education needs to be made in order to ensure people are given real opportunities and therefore they do not fall through the cracks and commit crimes.
These changes can’t fully be made under capitalism as this system thrives on economic divisions and requires the oppression and brutalisation of the majority of people to benefit a wealthy minority.
While we need to fight for every reform in the here and now the only real way to solve these issues in the long term is to change in the way the system is run, remove the profit motive and create a society where the wealth is shared in a fair and equitable way.
By Kai Perry