Ex-Northern Territory Youth Detention Centre detainee tells of trying to take her own life after nightmare stint in isolation

By AAP

Warning: Distressing content.
A cell inside Darwin's old Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. Picture / Amos Aikman, News Corp Australia
A cell inside Darwin's old Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. Picture / Amos Aikman, News Corp Australia

"At that time I would have rather die than stay another minute in that room." These are the words of a Northern Territory girl who repeatedly tried to take her own life while being held in Don Dale Detention Centre's notorious isolation cells.

The former detainee, known as AN, told the juvenile justice royal commission she was hospitalised several times after trying to take her own life while in solitary confinement, and her family wasn't informed until days later. Kids at risk of self harm were locked up for up to 23 hours a day in unpadded cells, the inquiry heard.

And guards with no training in mental health or suicide prevention were badly ill-equipped to deal with the trauma-afflicted teenagers in their care.

"They never told me when I would be getting out. The only time they took any notice of me is if I tried to hurt myself," AN wrote in a statement tendered on Friday.

"Then they would come running in and throw me on the ground, jump on me, bash me and handcuff me. Only a couple of the guards ever tried to talk me down or talk to me about how I was feeling.

"I just hated being alone at that time and I was feeling angry and hopeless ... I would get so upset that I felt dying was better than staying in isolation," she said.

AN said she hardly saw the sun the whole time she was in solitary confinement, and the ordeal changed the way she saw the world when she finally got out. "Everything felt extra bright, hot, loud and weird ... (it) made it harder for me to be around people." AN said she "felt like a dog" when given her food in her cell without any cutlery, forcing her to eat with her hands.

One of AN's worst memories of being in detention was when a large group of guards restrained her, stripped her and later gave her an "at risk" gown. "They carried me into a room and threw me face down on a bed. They then used the Hoffman Knife to cut off all my clothes," she said.

"I was fully naked and I felt real shame with all those men in the room." Earlier, ex-Don Dale youth justice officer Greg Harmer broke down while telling the inquiry that a boy was so distressed he banged his head against the bars of his cell until he bled.

Harmer, who worked at the facility between 2011 and 2013, was in tears as he remembered the extremely upset inmate repeatedly begging to be taken out of isolation.

"He was continually belting his head on the bars, and yelling and swearing," he said.

"He had started to cut his head in a few places ... the walls were splattered with blood." A senior officer refused to let the detainee out of solitary confinement, and he stayed there overnight until a mental health worker from adult prison arrived, Harmer said.

"I felt frustrated by this, but I also felt that there was nothing I could do," he said.

"I was watching animals caged in a zoo, and it did not feel right."

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- news.com.au

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