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NT govt scrambles to action on youth jail

AAP logoAAP 25/07/2016 By Neda Vanovac

One head has rolled and others may follow amid accusations the NT government has long known about the brutal abuse of young prisoners in the territory's youth detention centres.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced a royal commission to examine the NT's youth justice system following the broadcast of footage of juvenile detention centre staff in Darwin abusing young prisoners.

It comes after videos were released of teens at the Don Dale youth detention centre being tear-gassed, stripped naked, and assaulted by guards, with one boy hooded and tied to a chair and left there for two hours.

Chief Minister Adam Giles says he first saw the footage, dating from between 2010 to 2015, on Monday night, and blamed his lack of knowledge on a departmental cover-up.

"Over time there has most certainly been a culture of cover-up within the corrections system," he told reporters in Darwin.

But Priscilla Collins, CEO of the North Australia Aboriginal Justice Agency, says the government has known for years.

"There's no cover up, they've been fully aware of what's been going on, the reports show it ... they had access to the footage ... they knew about it," she told reporters.

Two reports on the NT's youth justice system were made public last year which quoted extensively from the department's CCTV footage of the tear-gassing incident.

Corrections minister John Elferink has been stood down from the portfolio, although he still holds six others, including attorney-general and children and families, and should be stood down from those too, said members of the Make Justice Work peak body.

"Everyone in the Territory is appalled by what he's been doing and lying to the public," Ms Collins said.

NT Council of Social Service executive director called for the NT government to be sacked.

"I don't think we can feel safe with this current government around our children, our young people, and our families in the NT, we need change," she said.

Mr Giles said a new youth justice facility will be built, a prison farm at Mataranka, and would establish an inspector-general for corrections.

Police are investigating the conduct of officers in the footage and may press charges.

Two of the officers in the footage still work in the NT youth justice system, and the others have been sacked or resigned over the past two years.

Under the Youth Justice Act, "if officers are acting in good faith they're not criminally liable" during physical encounters with inmates, said police Commissioner Reece Kershaw.

"Most of those incidents pivot on the concept of whether the force is reasonable," said John Lawrence, former head of the NT Bar Association.

"I didn't see reasonable force being used against children, I saw a young boy being stripped naked by three large adult men and sat upon. That's not reasonable, that's disgusting, that's revolting, it's offensive."

Opposition Leader Michael Gunner criticised the government's tough-on-crime approach, which has been popular with a large part of the community.

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