The Use of Segregation for Children in Australian Youth Detention Systems: An Argument for Prohibition
Grant, E., Lulham, R., & Naylor, B. (2017). The use of segregation for children in Australian youth detention systems: An argument for prohibition, Advancing Corrections. 3:117-136
20 Pages Posted: 29 May 2017 Last revised: 3 Jun 2017
Date Written: May 29, 2017
In July 2016, the Australian Broadcasting Commission aired an episode of the investigative journalism program, ‘Four Corners’, entitled ‘Australia’s Shame’ (ABC 2016). The program centred on the treatment of children in the Northern Territory’s1 youth detention system. It outlined a system plagued by regular failure and institutionalized cruelty. Among the footage were stark images of a boy shackled to a chair, his head covered in a spit hood and children being held in segregation for extended periods with no access to natural light, ventilation or running water and subsequently being teargassed. The following day, the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull made a decision to call a Royal Commission into the detention of children in the Northern Territory (Prime Minister of Australia 2016).
In 2015, the Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner launched an investigation into the conditions of confinement of children in the Northern Territory. The Commissioner responded to complaints of ‘inhumane’ conditions where “… young persons were being held in solitary confinement in cramped and darkened cells, for up to 23 hours a day… [and] concerns about the long term impact this could have on the… young persons’ psychological and physical wellbeing” (Children’s Commissioner 2015:3). While the Children’s Commissioner was highly critical of the actions of Correctional Services and highlighted the negative impacts of segregation, the report fell short of calling for a prohibition on the use of segregation for children in detention. Given that the Northern Territory Youth Detention System is experiencing high levels of critical incidents and alleged abuses, particularly in the use of segregation, a discussion of segregation and its impacts forms an important starting point in understanding ‘best practice’ principles in dealing with children in criminal justice systems. To understand the behaviors of the children in custodial settings, it is useful to review the literature on the responses of young people to imprisonment. The theory in this area comes from the multidisciplinary field of environmental psychology, which examines the relationship between the environment and its inhabitants. Using theoretical models can assist in the understanding of environments that enhance reasonable behavior and may predict the likely outcomes when these conditions are not met.
Keywords: Prisons, Human Rights, Juvenile Justice, Segregation, Detention
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