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Dylan Voller's mother says she fears for his life while he remains in jail

The Guardian The Guardian 11/10/2016 Elle Hunt

WARNING: This video contains content that may disturb some viewers

The mother of Dylan Voller, the teenager shown hooded and bound on the ABC’s Four Corners program, has said she fears for her son’s life while he remains in prison.

Nineteen-year-old Voller featured prominently in the Four Corners investigation into abuse in juvenile detention, which sparked a royal commission into youth detention centres in the Northern Territory after it aired in early August.

Footage showed the 18-year-old allegedly being assaulted over a number of years while incarcerated. He has been held in the adult prison just outside Darwin since turning 18.

His parole application was rejected on 15 September, two weeks after the royal commission opened in Darwin. Public hearings begin today at the supreme court in Darwin.

Joanne Voller told a public forum at the University of Sydney last night that she feared Dylan would experience severe repercussions after giving evidence at the royal commission. “When the story first went to air, he was really relieved that the story was out and to see the people all over Australia do the rallies and everything, it gave him hope,” she said.

“But right now, the last few conversations I’ve had with him, to be honest – he’s really scared ... When he gives the royal commission evidence, he still has to go back to jail.”

Joanne Voller said Dylan had been given a black eye since Four Corners was broadcast: “He says he walked into a door, because he can’t go into it any further.”

She said she was worried he would not be able to speak freely to the royal commission for as long as he was held in prison and vulnerable to further abuse. “I’m really fearful that I’m going to lose my son, to be honest. Is he going to be the next person who passes away in custody?”

“That’s where my head’s at. I’m really scared for my son.”

Wearing T-shirts reading “Free Dylan Voller”, Joanne and her daughter Kirra spoke often tearfully about Dylan’s experiences in the justice system at the event, organised by the Students Support Aboriginal Communities group and Amnesty International.

Joanne Voller said Dylan had been put in the care of the state at the age of 11 and expelled from school at 12. “To me, that was pretty much the start of his bigger trouble.”

She said Voller had learned “at a young age” to pit his family against his case workers, and said the latter had been powerless to stop him from leaving his care.

“They were not properly supervising him or knowing where he was or what he was doing and they tried to cut us and the rest of his family out of his life and blame him for what he was doing. But as parents, brothers, sisters, we were only trying to help him.”

Voller was sentenced to a 20-month non-parole period in August 2014 at the age of 16 for attempted robbery, aggravated robbery and recklessly endangering serious harm in an ice-fuelled crime spree in Alice Springs.

It was during the incarceration that followed, at the Don Dale youth detention centre, that he was held in restraints and a spit hood, footage of which was broadcast on Four Corners.

Screengrab of Dylan Voller strapped to a mechanical chair in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. © AAP Image/Four Corners Screengrab of Dylan Voller strapped to a mechanical chair in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. Kirra, Dylan’s sister, said his treatment in incarceration contributed to his behaviour. “When you’re told for six years that a person isn’t a person, it sort of starts to sink in … After seeing all the footage, I can understand the person that he is and the things he’s done.”

But “the things he was put through was worse than what he ever inflicted on anyone else”, she added, to audible agreement from the gathered crowd of about 150 people.

Ken Canning, a Murri activist, writer and poet who spent time in juvenile detention himself, said the footage broadcast on Four Corners was a “disgusting shock and a disgrace”.

“You tend to think the bad old days are gone, then all of a sudden there it is in front of your eyes again – and, in some instances, only worse. I’m 64 and, you know, I can see where this boy’s life is at. It’s not a good place.”

He said the fact that no staff at Don Dale had been disciplined for abuse that was filmed and broadcast was evidence that the royal commission was going to be “useless”.

Lynda-June Coe, a teacher and activist with the Canberra Aboriginal Tent Embassy and a representative of Fighting in Solidarity Towards Treaties, agreed.

She “had no faith” in the royal commission after most of the recommendations from the investigation into Aboriginal deaths in custody in 1987 had not been implemented. “I don’t see any findings will change the way we are in this country.”

Roxanne Moore, a human rights lawyer and campaigner in Amnesty International’s Indigenous Rights team, said Indigenous children were not born equal to those who were not Indigenous: “And we have to change that.”

As she was speaking, Joanne Voller got up from the table at which the panel of speakers were sitting and left the room.

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