Activist charged for sitting in NT minister's office, while Don Dale self-harm crisis intensifies

August 17, 2022
Close Don Dale NOW members protest outside NT families minister Kate Worden's office on March 11. Photo: Stephen W Enciso

Darwin activist Justin Tutty faced court on August 15 after being charged with disorderly behaviour and trespass for sitting in Territory Families minister Kate Worden’s office on March 11.

Tutty was part of an emergency meeting at Worden’s office called by members of Close Don Dale NOW. It followed an NT News report that revealed there were 54 episodes of self-harm and attempted suicide at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre (DDYDC) from July to December last year. This compares to eight for the same period in 2020.

About 20 concerned community members gathered at Worden’s Marrara office to request an urgent discussion about the deteriorating mental health of children incarcerated in DDYDC. Worden is the minister responsible for overseeing DDYDC. 

Community members waited for more than an hour at Worden’s office, but she did not show up to hear their concerns. Instead, the police arrived and arrested Tutty, who had sat down inside the lobby to wait for the minister. 

The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory said in 2017 that DDYDC needs to close because it is “not fit for accommodating, let alone rehabilitation, children and young people” due to its “severe, prison-like and unhygienic conditions”. 

The NT Children’s Commissioner has consistently found that there is “no therapeutic framework” in place inside DDYDC and that children have been left waiting for medical attention in their cells for more than 23 hours after being designated at risk of self-harm or suicide. 

Children as young as 10 can be — and have been — detained in DDYDC. Almost all of the children detained in DDYDC are First Nations and most of them are on remand. 

Tutty told Green Left that the decades-long “focus on punishment rather than healing have done a great disservice to both perpetrators and victims of youth crime”. 

“By dumping kids at the condemned prison, the NT injustice system is giving up on them. But that's not an option. These children are part of our future. We don't have the choice of giving up.”

Incarcerating children in DDYDC breaches the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty, which specifies that “untried detainees should be separated from convicted juveniles”. It also contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says: “Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”

Close Don Dale NOW finally gained a meeting with Worden in April, in which she downplayed the reported self-harm and suicide figures and rejected the urgent need to close DDYDC. 

Since then, there has been a rise attempted self-harm and suicide at DDYDC. NT News reported in July that there have been 93 episodes in the past six months, 11 of which required the person to be hospitalised. 

Many have lost faith in the NT government’s ability or willingness to fix the crisis. Donna Hunter, whose 11-year-old grandson has spent three months on remand in DDYDC, personally appealed to then-opposition leader Anthony Albanese in February to intervene.

Hunter has renewed her calls for federal intervention, asking the Australian Greens to introduce a private member’s bill to stop the continued incarceration of children in DDYDC. 

Tutty will face court again in April 2023.

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