‘Not all guards are bad’: Dylan Voller

p2352 Dylan VollerBy KIERAN FINNANE

 

Dylan Voller wants everyone to know that not all guards are like the ones seen so mistreating him on the recent Four Corners program “Australia’s Shame”.

 

The message comes via his case worker and respected youth justice advocate, Antoinette Carroll. After Four Corners went to air she flew to Darwin to visit Voller, whom she has worked with since 2008.

 

Ms Carroll says Voller has formed “positive relationships” with some guards (prison officers) in the adult gaol, where he is currently serving a three year and eight month sentence for serious offending in February 2014.

 

The footage of Voller in the adult prison, shackled and hooded in a restraint chair, has become the iconic image of the controversy over the NT juvenile justice system that has shocked the nation and prompted a Royal Commission.

 

p2343 Four CornersIt may not be a message that people want to hear right now but Voller told Ms Carroll to “make sure people know, it’s not everybody”.

 

Similarly, three young detainees currently held in Don Dale, whom she also visited, have some good relationships with youth justice officers (YJOs), says Ms Carroll.

 

While she was there, on duty YJOs approached her to talk. She describes their conversation as a “critical stress debriefing”. She says they are really upset themselves by what was shown on Four Corners, which they in no way condone.

 

“There has absolutely been an improvement in Don Dale” since the 2014 tear-gassing incident, says Ms Carroll. For one, YJO’s now receive eight weeks training for the job, instead of the four days back then. Training is critical for giving them the conflict resolution skills that were so obviously lacking in the tear-gassing incident.

 

However, the youth justice sector is still lobbying for improvements to be made to the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre: “For example we continue to have no space to conduct professional or family care meetings.”

 

At present these meetings are held either outside, completely lacking in privacy and often distracting, or in the medical room. Ms Carroll says provision of even a donga (demountable) would be a huge improvement.

 

She took advantage of being in Darwin last week to have a meeting with Opposition policy personnel, pressing the “election asks” (see below) of the Making Justice Work campaign, which brings together a wide range of Territory NGOs concerned about effective responses to crime in the community.

 

If Labor should win government – as it is tipped to do – Ms Carroll hopes they do not try “to reinvent the wheel” on youth (and adult) justice. This goes too for the Royal Commission, which should begin, she says, with a thorough audit of all existing reports, starting with “Seen and Heard”, a 1997 Australian Law Reform Commission report calling for widespread reform to Australia’s child protection, education and legal systems, then “Little Children Are Sacred”, the report which prompted the Intervention in 2007, going through to the Vita review and the Children’s Commissioner’s reports prompted by the tear-gassing incident.

 

We already know what to do, she says, it’s a matter of doing it!

 

Critical for Central Australia is the establishment of a separate Youth Court. This is a matter of access and equity in justice, says Ms Carroll. There are separate Youth Courts in Darwin and Katherine, with specifically trained personnel, and they yield different results for the young people brought before them.

 

She mentions particularly Magistrate (now called ‘Judge’) Sue Oliver from the Katherine youth court, who appeared on camera in the Four Corners program.

 

“She runs a very different court to what we see down here,” says Ms Carroll. “It’s much more holistic, much more ‘user-friendly’ for the young people and their families, less punitive, less onerous bail conditions.”

 

As a matter of equity young Central Australians should be able to access the same kind of justice as their Top End counterparts, in line with the Youth Justice Act and the Australasian Juvenile Justice Standards to which the Territory is a signatory.

 

Breach of bail conditions is what sees many young people put on remand in the Darwin and Alice Springs detention centres.

 

A bail support program – providing 24 hour residential support – would put an end to this, says Ms Carroll, immediately reducing the NT’s shocking youth detention rate. There are some great models operating in Victoria and Queensland, for example.

 

Also high on the sector’s wish list is victim-offender conferencing, “a very powerful tool” taking account of the needs of victims by helping a young person recognise the impact of their offending.

 

It is provided for in the Youth Justice Act but not resourced, says Ms Carroll.

 

“I think it would lead to a massive decrease in recidivist offending.”

 

“Hands on support for families” would also head off young people ending up in detention. She cites models in WA and NSW where a family worker is allocated to a struggling family – “there at the house from 7am, helping get the kids ready for school, helping with any of the things that are getting in the way of good parenting”.

 

To those who blanch at the cost of such intensive programs, she says look at the costs of keeping a young person in detention (the Vita review put this at $698.40 a day) and look at how that’s not working for community safety, which she acknowledges as “a huge issue”.

 

Note: The six ‘election asks’ of the Making Justice Work campaign:

 

Negotiate an Aboriginal justice agreement setting out how the government and Aboriginal people will work together to make justice work.

 

Commit to establishing and resourcing specialist and therapeutic courts.

 

Increase funding for rehabilitation, reintegration and employment programs for young people and adults already in the justice system.

 

Reduce the number of young people being locked up.

 

Abolish mandatory sentencing.

 

Develop a comprehensive plan to deal wth alcohol, including a review of current laws and policies.

 

Members of the campaign include the following organisations:

 

Australian Red Cross | North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency | Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service | Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission | Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory | Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation | Criminal Lawyers Association of the NT | NT Shelter | Catholic Care NT | Danila Dilba |  Central Australian Aboriginal Congress | NT Council of Churches | Domestic Violence Legal Service | Darwin Community Legal Service | Central Australian Youth Justice | ANTaR Northern Territory Council of Social Service | Top End Women’s Legal Service | Council for Aboriginal Program Services | Northern Territory Mental Health Coalition | FORWAARD Aboriginal Corporation | NT Bar Association | COTA NT | Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Program Unit |

 

 

Images: Four Corners, “Australia’s Shame”, aired 25 July 2016.

 

 

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3 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. John Bell
    Posted August 6, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    The pic of young Dylan Voller in a spit hood and with his wrists strapped to the arm rests is the iconic image that has driven the public outrage and the call for a Royal Commission.
    The pic was the centrepiece of the highly emotive, sensationalistic manner in which the ABC reported the Don Dale issue and brought it to public attention on prime time TV through Four Corners.
    Four Corners did not give any substantial background to the pic. It did not interview Dylan or any of the staff for an explanation of that incident. The program relied on the emotive shock impact of the inferences predictably drawn by the public from the shocking visual, rather than presenting the objective facts from all sides.
    For example, the vast majority of viewers have never heard of a spit hood and the reasons for its restrictive use. No one knew all the reasons for the wrist straps.
    The pic of a young nan in that position with the minimal info given by the report simply shocked everyone, me included.
    I am not in any way seeking to justify the image of that pic. Like everyone else in TV viewer land Down South, I was never an inmate or a staff member at Don Dale at the time of these events.
    It looked terrible to me and I was outraged.
    The maximum shock effect without all the facts being known is evidenced in Commissioner Mick Gooda’s initial reaction which was understandable.
    The shallow presentation of the pic ensured maximum public outrage, in a manner that we are more accustomed to see on shock jock commercial tellie.
    As the Royal Commission prepares to get under way, there is an incredible amount of hurt and anguish that has been generated by the Four Corners report, not just for the families of abused young men, but also for correctional staff and their families who must feel that they were all portrayed in the worst possible light.
    The Four Corners journos could now perhaps direct their attention to a program in which they actually talk to correctional staff who strapped Dylan to that chair.
    Perhaps they could even talk to Dylan for his honest personal view of the reasons he found himself in that pic position.
    I am sure that the thinking viewers out here in TV Viewer Land would appreciate such an appeal to our deductive reasoning intelligence, rather than simply to our raw subjective emotions.

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  2. Mike Gillam
    Posted August 5, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    I’m very impressed by the empathy and integrity of Antoinette and her client, Dylan, in providing some valuable context/additional facts and bringing some critical thinking to this story. I’m not surprised that young detainees have expressed support for particular staff or that YJO’s are upset. Thanks also, to Kieran for making sure that our community is better informed and hopefully a little less polarised and judgemental than we were last week.

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  3. John Bell
    Posted August 5, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    I share the view of respected youth worker Ms Antoinette Carroll who hopes the inevitable incoming NT Labor government will not try “to reinvent the wheel” on youth (and adult) justice.
    As Ms Carroll so accurately says, we already know what to do to, now it just remains to be done.
    Young man Dylan Voller’s gracious acknowledgement that not all detention centre guards mistreated him and that he formed good relationships with staff is a welcome breath of fresh air that gives some hope of fair balance of views to be presented in the coming review.
    Somehow, though, I fear that any such balance is endangered from the outset.
    The problem, as always, will be that an incoming NT government will inevitably bring to the table its own brand of self-interested politics, as all incoming governments do.
    Substantial blame for the existing problems, as always, will be levelled at the former government in the time-honoured tradition of major party finger-pointing that is nationwide, not an exclusive trait of NT politicians.
    The upcoming Royal Commission will be the primary vehicle for this ritualistic political point scoring exercise.
    The political finger-pointers will have the support of sympathetic mainstream media outlets, depending on the outlets’ Left or Right leaning.
    In the media firestorm that has erupted and is about to gather momentum, a la the current Royal Commission into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, it will inevitably come down to the point scoring forces of the Left versus the point scoring forces of the Right in a spectacular rolling fireball of finger-pointing, accusations and counter-accusations by hysterical politicians on all sides.
    And in today’s instant communication age, a Royal Commission is the ideal public Twitter/Facebook-friendly medium for all couch potatoes in viewer land to fuel the fireball.
    Surely there must be a less-sensationalistic, less costly, less political-point scoring way to resolve resolvable social youth problems in detention that this dinosaur Judge Judy method of a Royal Commission is now setting in train.
    In the meantime, I look forward to the middle-of-the-road, objective reports of the Don Dale issue by Alice Springs News Online.

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