hell is for kids down under

Dylan Free.

by Frank Manning

Juvenile detention is a necessary evil. There are kids who commit crimes and hurt other people. After they are apprehended by police, they are held accountable by the juvenile justice system. In between these two actions by the state, a young offender is usually held in a lockdown detention for juveniles operated by the county or state. Kids who are convicted are sometimes sentenced to spend time in a juvenile prison. The purpose of a juvenile facility—aka juvenile rehabilitation facility, or juvenile correctional facility, or reform school—is rehabilitation rather than punishment and societal retribution. It works that way in most civilized countries. The European countries, the USA and Canada, Australia, Japan, all have juvenile justice systems. None is perfect. Sometimes bad people run them, and some really bad things happen in them.

On Monday, July 25th, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s investigative journalism show “Four Corners” presented an hour-long report on the brutal abuse and mistreatment of boys in juvenile detentions and prisons in Australia’s Northern Territory. The report revealed the shocking truth about the treatment of children behind bars, where young offenders have been stripped naked, assaulted, and tear gassed. The complete report can be watched here.  It’s difficult to watch at times. Just gut-wrenching.


One of the boys profiled in the story is Dylan Voller, now 19, who for years was the #1 worst hellion in the remote desert town of Alice Springs, deep in Australia’s Outback. Aboriginal Australians make up almost 20% of the population of Alice Springs, and about a third of the Northern Territory’s people. However, aboriginal children account for 98% of the kids in juvenile detention in the territory.

Dylan Voller is partially of aboriginal descent but seems to me to have a lot of European blood as well. He was born in Adelaide in 1997, and moved to Alice Springs with his sister and their mother in 2006, at the age of eight. Within three years Dylan was already facing assault, theft, and damaging property charges. He was only 11 when he was first sent to detention. He spent the next three years in and out of detention and residential care under territorial guardianship. The boy spiralled out of control. Dylan’s Supreme Court file showed he committed as many as 50 crimes between 2009 and 2014, when he was put behind bars for more than two years for bashing a victim into unconsciousness with a mop handle, beating another and stealing his wallet, and attempting to run over a police officer, all while high on crystal meth.

Don Dale Detention CentreDylan spent most of his 13th through 17th years at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, near Darwin. A small boy with a fiery personality, he would curse hardcore at the officers and spit at them. That aggressive behavior landed him in the Behavioral Management Unit, or solitary, many times. During one two-week stint there the guards tear-gassed the BMU after another boy got out of his cell and went on a rampage in the unit. Dylan and four other boys were just sitting in their cells and were badly gassed. Then they were taken outside in handcuffs, forced to lie on the ground, and hosed down with a fire hose.

Dylan AttackedWhen he was just 13 Dylan was hurled bodily into a BMU cell. Twice he was stripped naked in an isolation cell when he threatened to kill himself. Sometimes it’s necessary to be forceful with a juvenile detainee. But the violent, abusive way they went about it was totally criminal. It’s really heart-wrenching to see Dylan naked in a cell, crying into his hand, traumatized and terrorized, hurting physically, and left completely alone in that cell to process it all.

Totally soulless of staff. One of them should have stayed in there with him. Basic humanity, for God’s sake!

Dylan in ChairStill at Don Dale, when Dylan was 17 he threatened once again to kill himself. Spent two hours in a restraint chair, alone and immobilized. I cannot imagine what was going through his already battered mind, as he sat there strapped down, all alone, and with that ghastly hood over his head.

After suffering the abuse at Don Dale, Dylan was moved to the adult prison at Darwin. His older brother has said Dylan has become more positive in the adult facility.

He has started taking courses, is studying for a driver’s license, and has been lining up work for his release. Dylan’s brother’s companion was quoted as saying: “When he gets out he needs to get mental help, he needs to fix the mental problems in his head. Anyone would, who’s gone through the shit he’s gone through.”

There are two more videos of Dylan’s abuse. They are short videos and I have included them for readers who don’t want to spend the time necessary to view the above film.


To be fair, Dylan did threaten suicide and they had to strip him. What I object to is the brutal physical takedown and leaving him alone and distraught afterward. At the facility where I volunteer, years ago they did not respond proactively to three very disturbed children who threatened to commit suicide. They wound up with three dead kids. So yeah, a kid who threatens self-harm must be prevented from being able to do it.

Just be gentle about it!



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9 Responses to “hell is for kids down under”

  1. 1 matt
    August 4, 2016 at 7:52 pm

    Thanks, Frank, very enlightening. The perverse psychology demonstrated by a group of adult staff overpowering and then stripping a young juvenile as a matter of discipline/punishment/control (whatever they thought they were doing), is pretty close to the power dynamic of rape . . . potentially very damaging to the kid’s long-term mental health/self-image.

  2. 2 Willow54
    August 5, 2016 at 4:22 am

    I saw this on the news here recently. There are no words, but sadly it isn’t unique. A similar regime at a Young Offender Institute in England was also highlighted in the past few years. Thankfully the guards concerned in this abuse of young people were brought to justice, but in the Australian example we heard nothing to suggest that was the case. Unbelievable!

  3. 3 Frank Manning
    August 6, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    I just read some interesting articles about Dylan Voller in the Australian press. Apparently, the process of institutionalization has totally swallowed him. He is still behaving at 19 in adult prison as he did when he was 13 in juvenile detention. When he was younger he spat at the officers in response to their orders. He still does that at 19. When he got really upset he would threaten self-harm, forcing them to isolate and strip him or restrain him. He still does that at 19. After all the punchings, slammings, isolations, strippings, and restraint chairs he still has not learned to change his behavior. He was first jailed at age 11. In terms of emotion development he is still 11. He has the coping skills of a preteen boy. He has absolutely no distress tolerance—he doesn’t really need it. A prison official said then when “things don’t go his way”, Dylan acts out, spitting and threatening self-harm. So he has learned that if things get too unpleasant just threaten to harm yourself and others will remove you from the situation. How the hell is this kid gonna function in society after he gets out, which will be late next year if he serves his full sentence!

    • 4 Willow54
      August 7, 2016 at 4:32 am

      It is utterly unbelievable to me that the relevant authorities cannot seem to understand that they have contributed significantly to the problems highlighted in the documentary. I mean, surely it must be obvious that if you treat people like animals, they are going to respond accordingly in the way they treat you back?

      The so-called justice minister shown in the film was a disgrace. He clearly couldn’t have cared less about the young people, and even seemed to be suggesting they deserved it when questioned. Authorities in many countries sadly only pay lip service to the concept of rehabilitative justice for juveniles whilst the reality of life in custody for them is markedly different as we have, unfortunately in this case, seen.

      The punishment in being sent to prison is the loss of liberty, that and nothing else. No system should be sending anyone, especially vulnerable minors, to prison to be punished in the way we have witnessed.

      • 5 Frank Manning
        August 7, 2016 at 4:00 pm

        Willow, many people have commented on Australian web articles about this story and on the documentary’s site. It seems most of them are of the opinion that “the little shits got what they deserved.” Seriously! So how much of that is people upset by juvenile crime and how much is racism against indigenous Australians? There seems to be a very big dose of the latter in Australian society. So it’s not just the authorities and detention staff who have contributed to these problems. There seems to be a national mindset. An Australia friend of mine told me “It’s a real throwback to the colonial convict days that is a culture this country’s never shaken off. It was a cruel place and in a lot of cases like this still cruel. ” Another said “We’re comfortably racist.”

        That territorial justice minister should be sacked. They already fired the corrections minister, and he left the territory straight awy.

        In reporting on Dylan’s still disturbed behavior just now, I failed to mention one thing. So in a juvenile facility, a kid with such incendiary behavioral problems is not just put in isolation, slammed into walls, strapped into chairs. Trained professional counselors work intensively with the boy to help him find better responses to staff directions, to find better outlets for his anger, frustration, resentment, fear, and sense of abandonment. Down there at Don Dale they did not seem to give a flying fuck about that. But we really don’t know. We did not see “day to day” life there, just some extraordinary incidents. And yet that BMU — a fithy, unsanitary, tortuous throwback to the medieval dungeon. And that whole tear-gassing atrocity. Who knows if they even bother with the therapy these kids so desperately need.

  4. 6 Willow54
    August 8, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Frank, I could understand these comments about Australian racism if the logic was sound, but your friend has made a somewhat unreasoned response to the issue. If indeed the racism stemmed from ‘colonial convict’ days, then the majority of those in prison would be white Australians and not the indigenous Aboriginal people because the colonial convicts he refers to were predominantly white, and often young, criminals sentenced to banishment to the colonies by British courts.

    He is certainly right about the fact that Australia was historically a cruel place. It’s laws are derived from the British colonial days and have taken a very long time to be modernised. It isn’t that long ago that Australian justice included sentences of whipping and hanging. Corporal punishment in the criminal justice system and in Australian schools has not long been outlawed in the grand scheme of things. Great Britain sadly had these punishments on its’ statute books historically, and everywhere that fell under British colonial influence naturally took them up. Thankfully most countries abolished cruel punishments upon obtaining their independence from colonial rule, but equally some of those former colonies, like Australia, retained them until overwhelming public opinion forced political hands to be rid of them. Unbelievably, however, some former colonies, such as Malaysia and Singapore still retain hanging and judicial corporal punishment even to this day. (Remember Michael Fay, the US teen who was whipped in Singapore for vandalising cars?)

    Meanwhile, I’m glad to hear that the new political regime in the Northern Territories, encouraged by the Prime Minister of Australia, have instituted a root and branch review of juvenile correctional facilities and practices. Hopefully something good can come out of this because the activities witnessed in the documentary simply cannot be allowed to continue. I read a further article this morning, which suggested that the boy in the film, now 19 and in an adult facility, still spits at CO’s and acts out when he doesn’t get his way. The tone of the article seemed to be vindicating the treatment he got in ‘juvie’, but I would contend what I suggested in my previous posting, which is that nobody should be surprised by this. He learned this behaviour due to the treatment he has had in other places. He needs intensive behavioural therapy, not restrained in another chair or thrown in an isolation cell.

  5. 7 Frank Manning
    August 8, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    The latest ABC new report on Dylan. You are so right, Willow. It makes me so angry that no one has even tried to help this kid with his underlying issues. All they do is punish him and brutalize him.

    They not only let him fall through the cracks but let him plunge right into the vat of acid under the floorboards. I’ve written about some of “my kids” who are in prison now, in their 20s. At least the intensive help they needed was extended to them. They made their choices, and now they’re paying for it. It’s seems that with Dylan the authorities just let “the Tasmanian devil” whirl loose and destructively, lokced him up when they could, then brought all hell down on him for being so “bad.” But did they even TRY to help him with his problems? Doesn’t look like it.

    • 9 Willow54
      August 9, 2016 at 11:29 am

      Frank, thanks for the video clip. You could really see the pain on the mother’s face and the anguish in her voice. It’s a sad but all too common story. The offender is rarely the only one affected by the intervention of law enforcement.

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