Appalling prison treatment of Aboriginal youth highlighted at Australian inquiry

"Guards made a game of this"

“I was regularly stripsearched from the age of 11 and on one occasion was left in a cell overnight with no mattress, sheets or clothes. They turned the aircon on full blast, I was freezing all night … I was actually crying asking for a blanket. I was left handcuffed in the back of a stifling hot van during a 1,400 kilometre prison transfer from Alice Springs to Darwin. On the trip, I was denied bathroom stops.” Dylan Voller now aged 19 giving evidence at the Northern Territory Royal Commission into Youth Detention about his 8 years in and out of detention centres. See full evidence article 2 below


Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory (APO NT) congratulates the Commonwealth and Northern Territory Government on calling the Royal Commission Inquiry into Youth Detention and Child Protection.

APO NT has for many years raised with the government the shocking treatment of youth in detention and the long term effects it has on youth

Today Dylan Voller gave evidence at the Royal Commission hearing and broke his silence about his treatment by authorities in Northern Territory youth detention centres.

Finally youth feel confident to tell their stories to Australia knowing they have strong support behind them.

Today’s evidence is moving, this is Dylan’s personal story which shows how troubled his life was and how fragile he is. We congratulate Dylan for having the courage to tell his story as it is good for the public to understand how difficult life is for many youth who have been in and are currently in youth detention.

What we witnessed today is a story of how the juvenile justice system in the Northern Territory denied young people in its care the opportunity to enjoy even the most basic aspects of a normal life.


APO NT supports the Royal Commission inquiry to uncover where the systems have failed and make recommendations on how to improve laws, policies and practices in the Northern Territory to provide a safer future for our children.

John Paterson CEO AMSANT (NACCHO Affiliate) and Spokesperson for APO NT

The Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory —APO NT— is an alliance comprising the Central Land Council (CLC), Northern Land Council (NLC), North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS) and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT (AMSANT).

The alliance was created to provide a more effective response to key issues of joint interest and concern affecting Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, including providing practical policy solutions to government.

Support services thru NACCHO Members and Relationship Australia

Discussing experiences of the child protection system or time spent in youth detention can be difficult. This is especially so for people who experienced abuse and are telling their story for the first time.

If you need support you can call 1800 500 853 – a free helpline answered locally

  • This is a free service and is available 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday
  • Support is available to children, young people, their families and others impacted by the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory
  • Experienced and qualified staff can refer you to a range of services including counsellors, therapeutic support, and health professionals.

You can also contact the following services directly:

Danila Dilba Health Service


Services include:

  • face to face and telephone counselling,
  • support,
  • mental health support (including suicide prevention),
  • therapeutic group services, outreach, and referrals.

(08) 8942 5400 (Darwin, Palmerston and Malak)Website
Danila Dilba Health Service

Relationships Australia NT


Services include:

  • culturally appropriate support and information on how to engage with the Royal Commission and what to expect from the enquiry process,
  • face to face and telephone counselling by qualified counsellors,
  • support through legal processes,
  • referrals to legal and advocacy services,
  • pre and post counselling support to those directly affected who are giving evidence as well as their families,
  • mentoring by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural advisors, and healing camps on Country.

(08) 8923 4999 (Darwin and Katherine office with outreach to other areas) (08) 8950 4100 (Alice Springs office with outreach to other areas)Website
Relationships Australia Northern Territory

The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress


Services include:

  • peer support including social, emotional, cultural, social and therapeutic support with intensive case management to young people at risk
  • support
  • outreach
  • trauma-informed counselling
  • medical support care coordination, and referrals.

(08) 8959 4750 (Alice Springs and surrounding areas)Website
Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, Alice Springs, NT


There are a number of other services available which can provide support wherever you are in the Northern Territory.


If you need support you can call the following services:


DYLAN Voller has broken his silence about his treatment by authorities in Northern Territory youth detention centres in shocking admissions at the Royal Commission.

As reported by Megan Pain News Ltd

Mr Voller’s treatment at Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre sparked the Northern Territory child detention royal commission after footage of him shackled to a chair in a spit hood and a group of detainees being tear-gassed appeared on ABC’s Four Corners.

Mr Voller, 19, this afternoon told the commission that conditions in detention, which he first entered aged 11, were often miserable. He said detainees were regularly denied access to food, water and toilets as punishment for bad behaviour.

“There was one instance where I was in an isolation placement at Alice Springs detention centre and I was busting to go to the toilet … I had been asking for at least four or five hours,” Mr Voller said.


“They’d just been saying ‘no’.

“I ended up having to defecate into a pillow case because they wouldn’t let me out to go to the toilet.

“Eventually when I got let out the next morning, I was able to chuck that pillow case out.”

The key witness said on other occasions he was forced “to urinate out the door, out the back window, even in just normal rooms because they haven’t been able to come down”.

He said other detainees urinated out “the back window or into water bottles and chucking them out, like drink bottles and chucking them out the next day”.

Mr Voller said when guards allowed him to visit the bathroom they would only give him “five tiny little squares of toilet paper”.

“I’d go to the toilet, they’d only rip off, like, five tiny little squares of toilet paper and say: ‘That’s all you’re getting … make it last’,” Mr Voller said.

“They wouldn’t give us enough toilet paper.

“They done (sic) that quite a bit.”

According to the teen, detainees in Don Dale had to share underwear if they didn’t have enough money to buy their own. He described a prison economy where detainees could earn money through good behaviour and use it to buy items including underwear, deodorant, and CDs.

“The max you could earn was $4.50 a day and they’d take $1.50 off us every day for rent,” Mr Voller said.

“If you don’t buy your own underwear, the only other underwear you have the choice of wearing is the underwear everyone else wears.

“It gets washed, you pick out another pair, it gets washed and it goes through all of the males in Don Dale.”

The court heard Mr Voller was regularly stripsearched from the age of 11 and on one occasion was left in a cell overnight with no mattress, sheets or clothes. “They turned the aircon on full blast, I was freezing all night … I was actually crying asking for a blanket,” he said.

Mr Voller said he was left handcuffed in the back of a stifling hot van during a 1400 kilometre prison transfer from Alice Springs to Darwin. On the trip, he was denied bathroom stops and forced to defecate in his shirt.

“I threatened self-harm … choking myself with seat belts,” Mr Voller said.

He said the guards smoked heavily the whole way which made him vomit.

“I was vomiting, vomiting, I couldn’t get up, I was laying down in the chair and I was trying to break the chair so I could lay down flat,” he said.

Although poised throughout his testimony, Mr Voller’s eyes welled up on the stand, when senior counsel assisting Peter Callaghan SC moved his line of questioning to the topic of family.

“I had one case worker I remember that was saying my family didn’t really care about me and stuff like that,” Mr Voller said through tears.

“For a long time I started believing it, I guess.”

Mr Voller was this morning taken from the Darwin Correctional Centre to the Darwin Supreme Court to speak at the inquiry, which will also hear from Antoinette Carroll, a youth justice advocate who worked with Mr Voller for seven years.

The Royal Commission comes after footage screened in July showed Mr Voller and five other youths being tear-gassed and spit hooded at the Don Dale centre. Vision of Mr Voller strapped to a chair wearing a hood while in the notorious detention centre shocked many when they were screened by ABC’s Four Corners.

The court was closed but Mr Voller’s evidence was streamed online after the NT government lost a bid to delay further witnesses. He will not be cross-examined despite making allegations against 31 guards.

Other youths from Don Dale are expected to also give evidence.

According to his lawyer Peter O’Brien, Mr Voller has been eager to voice his version of events since the inquiry was announced on July 28.

Mr Voller was jailed at Holtze prison, Darwin in 2014 for a violent drug-fuelled binge.

“I’m definitely not proud of it, and it’s just humiliating and a lot of mistakes,” he said.

Both Mr O’Brien and Mr Voller’s mother, Joanne, said Mr Voller was concerned about giving evidence while still in custody and feared repercussions from prison guards.

“I have never seen my son so scared in all of his life,” Ms Voller said after visiting her son on Tuesday.

Mr Voller’s family has repeatedly called for his release from prison so he can speak freely before the commission.

He has also previously requested a transfer to Alice Springs prison.

But his mother said prison guards in Darwin have told him that going to Alice Springs would “increase his chances of getting bashed” because of its lack of CCTV cameras.

Mr Voller today told the court he finished school at age 10 and spent the following seven years in and out of care and youth detention.

He said it was during his first year in care he was first introduced to smoking marijuana and encouraged to commit crimes by older boys.

He described small, institutional rooms with painted-over windows.

“It was disgusting: cockroaches, dust, you felt trapped, you couldn’t really talk to anyone else,” Mr Voller said.

“The only bit of the outside world you got was when you were driving to court or yelling out at the top of your lungs to young people next door at the school.”

— With AAP

Mr Voller will not be cross-examined despite making allegations against 31 guards. But parts of his evidence are expected to be contested by the Northern Territory government.

He is concerned about giving evidence while still in custody, and fears repercussions from prison guards.

Former Federal Member for Solomon Natasha Griggs was having none of it and today took to her Facebook page to blast Mr Voller and those who showed empathy for him.

“I was shocked to see Voller dressed in a suit and looking angelic as he gave evidence to the royal commission..... our community (his victims, his neighbours, the police & the correctional services staff) haven’t forgotten what he has done or why he was there in the first place ... No truer word has been said than ...(its) ‘Everyone else’s fault — the system’s fault — but never the fault of Voller, his family or their culture’,” Ms Griggs wrote.

“Stop making this guy a martyr!” 


Some of the most shocking footage broadcast by the Four Corners TV programme of the abuse of inmates at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre was of the boy Dylan Voller. As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's national reporter for the Northern Territory, Kate Wild spent years covering problems in the Territory justice system. On a nationwide programme (click to listen) she explained Voller’s troubled background. 

Set up to fail by the system

Dylan Voller was "set up to fail" by a system determined to punish him, his former case worker said.

Antoinette Carroll, youth justice advocacy project coordinator at the Central Australian Legal Aid Service (CAALAS), has worked with Voller since he was first sentenced to 18 months in detention for what she described as low-end offending. She said the sentence was "devastating" for such a low-level offender.

She told the royal commission there was "an overwhelming lack of therapeutic support in place" for Voller, who had challenging behaviours. Carroll said Voller was subjected to a very punitive and uncoordinated approach as he travelled through the justice system while in care.

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Free Dylan VollerAustralia: Don Dale torture victim Dylan Voller plans hunger strike over threats of abuse by guards


Insurrection News Worldwide

Wednesday, 14th December 2016 - Recall the images of the hooded young people detained in Australia? One of the young people giving evidence in the inquiry into the violence in Australian youth detentions is threatening hunger strike after threats from prison guards


Dylan Voller, a young Aboriginal man at the centre of the torture scandal in the Don Dale youth detention centre, is threatening a hunger strike over threats of abuse by guards in the Darwin Correctional Centre, says his mother Joanne Voller.


Ms Voller, who has just concluded a visit with her son in Darwin, says Dylan is terrified of what will happen to him if he gives evidence to the current Royal Commission sparked by the Don Dale scandal, which is due to hear his testimony in the coming week.


At least four guards involved in the tear gassing and other incidents of abuse while Dylan was in Don Dale are currently working as guards in the Darwin Correctional Centre and are continually tormenting Dylan. Some have threatened to have him bashed if he speaks out about his treatment.


Dylan continues to be held in prison, despite being eligible for parole since October 2015. His family has consistently called for his release from prison, to allow him to heal from his ordeal and speak freely with the Royal Commission.


Dylan has previously requested a transfer to Alice Springs prison, to be away from his abusers and to be closer to his family. But he told his mother that guards are now making verbal threats that transfer to Alice Springs would increase his chances of getting bashed because of a lack of CCTV facilities in Alice Springs prison.


Dylan’s mother Joanne and sister Kirra were told to remove t-shirts that read ‘Free Dylan Voller’ when they visited him this morning in prison.


Joanne Voller will travel to Sydney on Friday to address a major protest being organised on Human Rights Day, December 10 – Unite with Aboriginal People’s Defense of Human Rights – to press her demands for freedom for her son and the closure of youth prisons.


Ms Voller said: “I have never seen my son so scared in all of his life. He has said he will start a hunger strike to fight for his own safety. They are saying he may not even be allowed to attend court to speak with the Royal Commission and may have to give evidence via video link, under the eye of his abusers. He is too scared to do this.”


“The government promised change with this Royal Commission, but my son has just been put in further danger. When will this nightmare end”, concluded Ms Voller.


Padraic Gibson from UTS: Jumbunna Research Media has been assisting the Voller family with a campaign for Dylan’s freedom. Mr Gibson said: “How can this Royal Commission have any integrity when the NT government is allowing key witnesses to be threatened with violence if they speak the truth? We need to see urgent action from Chief Minister Gunner. He promised a change in approach to corrections, but has refused to even meet with Dylan’s family to discuss his ongoing abuse.”


“Many of these guards should have been sacked long ago for their torture of Aboriginal children. The fact that they remain not only employed, but tasked with guarding Dylan, speaks volumes about the continuing racism and disrespect for Aboriginal lives that characterizes the ‘corrections’ system. Dylan must be set free immediately”, concluded Mr Gibson.


For comment contact:
Joanne Voller 0487 551 930
Kirra Voller 0467 175 294
Padraic Gibson 0415 800 586

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Her family will push for those involved in her "inhumane and unprofessional" treatment to be prosecuted after Coroner Ros Fogliani found her death could have been prevented if police and hospital staff had acted properly.


The family had fought hard for the video to be made public – “to show the world how my daughter died”, said her mother.


Ms Dhu, whose first name is not used for cultural reasons, died after being held at the South Hedland Police Station, where she was because she had not paid $3,622 in fines.

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