Former inmates in juvenile detention centers in Australia’s Northern Territory have filed a class action lawsuit against the local government, demanding compensation for themselves and hundreds of other detainees who were subjected to harsh abuses by prison staff.
The class action lawsuit was filed Wednesday by the law firm Maurice Blackburn on behalf of former juvenile detainees Dylan Jenkings and Aaron Hyde. It details accounts of "unlawful” physical and psychological abuse inside notorious youth detention facilities in the city of Darwin, local news outlets reported.
If successful, the legal effort would not only see Jenkings and Hyde compensated but also set a precedent for the other mostly aboriginal youth who have suffered harsh treatment by prison guards inside youth correction centers in the Northern Territory.
"Our clients are concerned not only of their own treatment, but the treatment of other young people in youth detention centers,” said Attorney Ben Slade. "These young people are entitled to be compensated for the wrong that was done to them. Things have to change.”
The class action case is just the latest legal proceeding to emerge since Australian broadcaster ABC showed video footage of children being stripped naked, tear-gassed, and physically abused inside youth detention centers in a news program called Four Corners.
Following the report, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a royal commission that would conduct a probe into the youth detention and justice system in the territory.
In a statement, the Northern Territory’s Acting Chief Minister Nicole Manison said that, because the matter was before the courts, she would not comment other than acknowledging that the government was seeking legal advice.
In the case filed in the Federal Court, lawyers charged that in 2012 prison staff "struck” the then-15-year-old Hyde several times in the ribs while the juvenile was handcuffed. Staff then allegedly "slammed” Hyde’s head into a door frame before handcuffing him for up to an hour to a basketball court fence, with his arms above his head.
According to the court document, he was then allegedly stripped naked, placed into an isolation cell with no permanent bedding or tap water for up to three weeks.
The document also alleged that Jenkings and another youth detainee were tear-gassed, before being taken to a room and "punched, kicked and struck… with batons and shields.” They were then put into solitary confinement for two days.
"These young people were beaten; they were regularly isolated in cells on their own; they were strip-searched and they were humiliated and frightened and… tortured,” Slade said.
Lawyers, however, said that legal proceedings for the case would likely take years to complete.
Both Jenkings and Hyde are currently serving sentences at Darwin’s adult correctional facility.