The Northern Territory news Sat 31 Jul 2021
The Northern Territory news; NewspaperNT
Community newspapers -- Northern Territory -- Darwin.; Australian newspapers -- Northern Territory -- Darwin.
News Corp Australia
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News Corp Australia
SATURDAY JULY 31 2021 OPINION 15 V1 - NTNE01Z01MA MATT CUNNINGHAM Corrections staff forgotten THE final chapter in the sorry saga of youth detention in the NT was probably written this week. Five years after the Royal Commission was announced, the NT government agreed to an out-of-court settlement that will see $35m paid to up 1200 former detainees as part of a class action over their treatment in the youth justice system since 2006. Some have since expressed their concern this figure appears to dwarf the payments made to victims of crime. But theres one group of people whove been horribly damaged by this whole affair, who will receive no compensation at all. Their reputations have been destroyed, their families fractured, and their lives up-ended, all for following the directions of their political masters who then wipe their hands of the issues when they inevitably go wrong. Theyre the hardworking correctional staff and youth justice officers, and their persecution continues to this day. Consider the case of Victor Williams. He was put in charge of the new Don Dale Detention Centre (the old adult prison) after the detainees were moved there following the infamous tear gassing incident in 2014. Williams, an Aboriginal man, managed to develop a strong rapport with the mostly Indigenous children and restore good order to the facility despite the challenges of the less-than-ideal piece of infrastructure he was required to work within. But when a dangerous teenage criminal escaped from Don Dale in 2017, Williams was sacked as the Superintendent. His crime? Failing to put the detainee in the High Security Unit cells the same ones that once housed the Territorys worst adult prisoners, and the same ones Royal Commissioner Margaret White had made clear to him during a visit a few months earlier, were no place to be locking up children. So how has Don Dale fared since Williams departure? Well, 18 months after he left there was a major disturbance and a large part of the centre was burned to the ground. Remarkably, some have been treated even worse than Williams. In 2015, Ken Middlebrook was forced to resign over a major controversy. His crime? Being too lenient on an Aboriginal prisoner. Middlebrook had allowed convicted murderer and rapist Edward Horrell who had been professionally assessed and deemed of low risk to participate in a work program while at the Datjala camp in Nhulunbuy. When Horrell escaped, a media frenzy followed, and Chief Minister Adam Giles told Middlebrook it was time to go. His resignation came as the Labor Opposition went to town over the murderer on the loose in Gove. Theres no sentiment in politics when a tough-on-crime election is just around the corner. Michael Gunner continued those claims after winning office, when defending his own government over the breakouts at Don Dale. Gunner said that unlike the former CLP government, Labor had not had an axe-murdering rapist on the loose in Nhulunbuy. His government then somehow forget to tell the public about a serious escape from the grounds of the Alice Springs prison involving a mentally-impaired man (being held in a maximum security cell there because the government has never built a proper mental-health facility) who once killed a family member. The man escaped from the health centre on the prison grounds, stole a car, drove it 5km running an unsuspecting couple off the road in the process, before crashing the ve hicle. Then Attorney-General and Health Minister Natasha Fyles was told of the incident, as was at least one member of Mr Gunners staff. But somehow the Chief Minister says he was never informed until nine months later when it made the media. For a man who holds such an important position, Mr Gunner has an uncanny knack for being kept in the dark. Meanwhile, after being effectively sacked in 2015, Middlebrook became one of the demons of Don Dale when the now notorious 4 Corners program went to air just four weeks before the 2016 election. First effectively sacked for being too lenient on an Aboriginal prisoner, he was now persecuted for being too hard on Indigenous detainees who hed allowed to be tear gassed amid a disturbance in a dilapidated building that was in danger of burning down if he didnt act in a hurry. But Middlebrooks persecution didnt end there. Close observers of Territory politics would know the Alice Springs Correctional Centre was mysteriously without a permanent superintendent for almost nine months. The job had been advertised last September and by December an independent panel had selected a standout applicant for the job. But the applicant wasnt appointed. Instead he was asked to answer further questions about his past. When he did that, he was asked to provide further referees. And when it was clear to the Department of Attorney-General and Justice it had no other option, Ken Middlebrook was finally offered the job. But instead of being offered a standard four-year contract, Middlebrook was offered just two, and told there would need to be some kind of public relations-type engagement with stakeholders to ensure they were OK with his appointment. What was he supposed to do? Issue a press released that said Im sorry the Henderson government didnt listen to me when I told them to build a new youth justice facility as part of their $1.8bn prison, forcing me to order the tear gassing of kids in a rundown old building that wouldnt be fit to hold your dog? Little wonder that when the job was finally offered, Middlebrook declined. Now, the government is building the new youth justice facility at the same place Middlebrook recommended more than a decade ago. If only theyd listened to him then. Meanwhile, Corrections is a shambles. Commissioner Scott McNairn has been on a mysterious approved leave of absence all year and morale is at its lowest. Perhaps its time our corrections officers considered a class action? Hard working corrections and youth justice officers unfairly targeted in juvenile crime issue But theres one group of people whove been horribly damaged by this whole affair correctional staff Armed officers are seen inside Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in 2019. Picture: Keri Megelus