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“It’s never justified”: Sydney University experts on Four Corners juvenile detention investigation

27 July 2016

Brutal. Distressing. Unacceptable. These are just some of the words used to describe footage aired on ABC’s Four Corners this week, showing the mistreatment of children in Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. Youth mental health and child psychology experts from the University of Sydney explain the potentially damaging and long-term impact. 

By Professor Ian Hickie (Professor of Psychiatry and Co-Director of the Brain and Mind Centre):

“The physical and emotional mistreatment of young people in detention, as graphically shown on Four Corners, is never justified. It is extremely distressing to see such brutal behavior being enacted by law enforcement officers.

“What is clear is that these officers lack a systemic or informed set of behavioural responses to young people in trouble. This type of behaviour is common in institutional environments: particularly those not subject to external scrutiny.

“What is clear is that we should not be relying on institutional settings to deal with young people with major behavioural problems. The long-term psychological impacts of such abuse are likely to be profound.”

By Professor Mark Dadds (Director of the Child Behaviour Research Clinic and NHMRC Principal Research Fellow):

“We are all horrified by the revelations that have emerged from the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. The solutions need to be swift and decisive, but well-reasoned and evidence-based.

“Research in Australia tells us that the problem behaviour that leads young people to be incarcerated in juvenile detention centres is just a visible tip of the iceberg. These young people have a long and complex history of mental and physical health problems associated with neglect and maltreatment. They are rarely receiving the help they need so desperately. This unacceptable but well-known fact would apply to most juvenile detention centres in Australia.

“The Prime Minister has announced a speedy and appropriate response. It is critical that all young people be treated as full citizens of Australia with the rights and responsibilities that brings.

“Further, it is critical that we understand that behaviour problems in young people are a major societal issue that require social health care solutions, not further maltreatment, isolation, and degradation.”

Katie Booth

Assistant Media and PR Adviser