Staff unions have described Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre as once again being consumed by a violent crisis.

A series of violent incidents at the centre over the last month have not been made public by the Territory Government.

“It’s been at crisis point for quite a while now, and it needs to get fixed and it needs to have things put in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” the CPSU’s Kay Densley said.

The centre was made notorious by abuse forensically examined and reported on by the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in 2016 and 2017.

Practices including using mechanical restraint chairs, spit hoods and tear gas have been banned, and the facilities have been renovated.

‘It’s very dangerous’

Unions and other sources have told the ABC that at least three young people were involved in a riot in Don Dale on Friday 22 June.

“There was a riot a week or so ago, we’ve had incidents when they’ve been on the roof, et cetera, and these are the sorts of things that happen when there’s no staffing numbers and untrained staff, it’s very dangerous,” Ms Densley said.

The ABC learned that a teenage girl was narrowly prevented from suiciding at the centre last week.

There have been violent attacks on staff, including officers injured by a detainee wielding an iron bar and a pole thrown from the roof.

Youth Justice executive director Sasha Robinson said infrastructure at the centre was still being upgraded to make it more difficult for young people to self-harm.

“We were aware of the young person’s distress and we were providing 15 minute observations,” she said.

The CPSU has said resignations and absenteeism have led to understaffing levels at which there are not enough workers to enable the detainees to leave their cell blocks as often as they should for education, recreation and meals.

“Morale is very low and staff are choosing to leave. There aren’t enough staff there, some staff are unwilling to work overtime, and recruitment isn’t being carried out regularly enough,” Ms Densley said.

The Alice Springs detention centre has also been so full that detainees have had to be brought to Darwin, the union added.

Ms Robinson said “there is no understaffing” in Don Dale, and residential care workers and young outreach officers were being brought in to help man the centre.

“Managers are always at the centre, myself included. We work with our team, and when we are there on weekends, it’s actually about building morale,” she said.

She said detainees were sometimes being confined to accommodation blocks, where they continue to receive programs, partly because of damage caused to the centre.

‘Difficult period’

Responding to questions from the ABC about recent violent incidents and unrest at the centre, Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield said there had been “a number of incidents in which we have had a small number of detainees behaving in ways that are not acceptable”.

“We all acknowledge that it is a difficult period. There’s new staff coming into training next week and that will mean there will be more staff to support the change as we move forward,” she said.

– Jane Bardon

Read more: Staff Narrowly Prevent Child’s Suicide as Don Dale Reaches ‘Crisis Point’

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