“Their goal was to break us”

Last Updated on 04/08/2022 by National Justice Project

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We all know childhood is when we most need love and compassion – a time to make mistakes and to learn from them with the guidance of adults.

But in this country, some kids aren’t so lucky.

If you’re a First Nations child or child with a disability, you often don’t get the same opportunity and chances as others.

If you do something that gets you into trouble, instead of receiving compassion and support, you might be criminalised and thrown into youth detention.

And once you’re in there, the childhood you deserve disappears.

Take the experience of our client, a young Aboriginal man named Adam*, who spent the greater part of his childhood in the Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre, WA.

He entered Banksia Hill as a child with many complex challenges. While detained at Banksia Hill, he was subjected to hours in handcuffs and isolation in a concrete cell.

Instead of providing him with the support, assistance and care he desperately needed, the staff cruelly manipulated and punished him, which made his situation much worse.

“I know their goal was to break us. They couldn’t, but I wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone else. And they are still doing it. I still think about it all the time. Maybe I would be different if I didn’t go through all of that. Not that I’m not happy with the person I am today, but maybe I could be better. All I could think of – why didn’t anyone help us at that time? All we had was each other” – Adam*  

Tragically, our client Darcy* tells a similar story.

Instead of supporting Darcy* with his psychological and other needs, Banksia Hill employees locked him in solitary confinement for three weeks and removed his mattress.

Both Adam* and Darcy* should have been diverted away from punishment. They deserved compassionate and adequate medical and mental health care. But they were denied this at Banksia Hill.

When it comes to Australia’s adult prison system, as our client, Dunghutti woman Leetona Dungay, would tell you: things don’t get much better there.

Many of our supporters will know that in 2015, Leetona’s son, proud Dunghutti man David Dungay Jr, stopped breathing and died after he was tackled and held down by several prison guards in his cell at NSW’s Long Bay prison.

Why? Because he didn’t stop eating rice crackers when he was told to.

David was a diabetic and, at the time, was in the medical wing for mental health reasons. He needed attention from a medical professional – not physical force.

“My son had a right to live. He had the right to be safe from harm. And I have the right to demand accountability and justice for what happened to David. The government and the prison had a duty of care to keep David safe, with people who were trained properly to keep him alive” – Leetona Dungay  

You’d think that after a death like David Dungay Jr’s, our governments would follow the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and divert First Nation’s People away from prisons. You’d think they would make necessary changes inside prisons to put an end to First Nations deaths in custody.

Sadly, that hasn’t happened.

Since the Royal Commission, successive governments have failed – again and again – to take meaningful action to advance First Nations healing and justice, and to end the hyper-incarceration and senseless custodial deaths of First Nations Peoples.

We regularly receive calls for help from First Nations detainees and prisoners who have been discriminated against and callously deprived of health care, often leading to preventable life-altering chronic conditions.

While fighting for justice alongside our clients, we call on governments to ensure that detainees and prisoners can access adequate and culturally safe health care and rehabilitation – and to do everything in their power to stop the disproportionately high rates of First Nations incarceration and racial and disability discrimination within the justice system.

To ensure we can keep showing up and fighting for our clients, please make a TAX-TIME donation to our end-of-financial-year campaign.

Your tax-deductible donation will fund:

  • Continue to hold the WA Government account for the way Adam* and Darcy* were mistreated and discriminated against in youth detention
  • Continue to take on strategic cases for current and past detainees who have suffered preventable physical and psychological injuries from detention
  • Represent families who have lost loved ones through the Coronial process, including at inquests
  • Pursue Leetona Dungay’s complaint to the United Nations seeking to hold the NSW Government to account for David Dungay Jr’s death
  • Push for much-needed legal and policy reforms that address the over-incarceration of First Nations children and adults and people with disabilities

Thank you so much for your support. We appreciate any donation you can give – it goes a long way at the National Justice Project.