In August 2014, a group of aboriginal teenage boys held in isolation in a juvenile detention center in the Northern territory were tear gassed after “multiple” inmates tried to escape while causing a “riot,” according to prison staff claims at the time.
However, newly released CCTV footage of the incident, obtained by ABC’s Four Corners, appears to show that only one of the six detainees, aged between 14 and 17 years, tried to run away after a prison guard left his cell unlocked.
The remaining five inmates involved in the alleged jail-break were present inside their cells, with two of them even playing cards — yet they were sprayed with 10 bursts of teargas over a period of 90 seconds.
The video also shows the teenagers’ reactions, panicking and running in their cells, struggling to breathe. Meanwhile, one boy is tear-gassed for eight minutes in his cell as he lay on the floor, face down with his hands behind his back. He was then handcuffed by two officers wearing gas masks before being dragged out of his cell.
The guards can be heard on the video saying, “no let the f**** come through because when he comes through, he will be off balance. I’ll pulverize the little f****. Oh shit, we’re recording hey [laughs].”
Dr. Howard Bath, the former Northern Territory children's commissioner, investigated the incident and found the prison staff had not been entirely truthful about engaging in excessive use of force.
Former corrections commissioner Ken Middlebrook defended the tear-gassing, following a report by Bath.
"I am not in the business of overuse of force. There were two sprays from an aerosol in the area. Now it wasn't overuse of gas," Middlebrook then told the ABC.
But, as discussed above, the surveillance footage clearly shows five out of six of the teens were apparently sitting peacefully in their cells.
Not only has the video brought into focus widespread abuse in Australian prisons but also institutionalized racism in the facilities, especially against Indigenous people, including minors.
“Australia locks up Indigenous children, from as young as 10 years old, at one of the highest rates in the world,” Amnesty International stated in a 2015 report. “Overrepresentation is rising, with Indigenous children making up less than 6% of the population of 10–17 year-olds yet more than half (58 per cent) of young people in detention.”
In addition, recent research by the University of Technology in Sydney found indigenous Australians are being “unfairly sentenced for their crimes because of the racist and prejudicial views held by some members of the judicial system.”