By Jane Bardon.
Aaron Hyde says he was stripped naked and forced to spend long periods in isolation in the Northern Territory’s Don Dale youth detention centre when he was just a teenager.
Now his mother Tracey wants to know why he was treated the way he was and whether that contributed to his descent into serious criminality and tragedy.
She is hoping to find those answers next week when the youth detention royal commission resumes in Darwin.
Ms Hyde wants the commission to consider whether the provision of more psychiatric and counselling services to young people with behaviour problems would have helped prevent her son and many others going on to commit more serious offences — and perhaps saved some lives.
Hyde himself is expected to give evidence to inquiry that his attempts to blow the whistle on the treatment of juveniles in the centre were ignored.
Ms Hyde said the first major warning sign about Hyde was when he started skipping school to go to the skate park near their home in Palmerston aged 14 in 2011.
“Going to the skate park on his scooter gave him goals and something to develop himself in. It was the downfall of everything as well.”
As a young child he was diagnosed with ADHD, which triggered bouts of anger.
When he was 14 he stopped taking the medication, and started taking drugs and committing petty crimes with his skate-park friends.
He started getting a series of sentences in Don Dale for crimes, including stealing cars.
Ms Hyde moved the family out of Palmerston, she got Hyde some drug and alcohol counselling; but she was frustrated she could not access more government-funded help.
“You’re floundering because there’s nothing out there to help you. That was pretty frightening,” she said.
“We basically pleaded with the judge to push him into an inpatient facility to deal with the alcohol and drugs, because we could see it, the behaviours were escalating, the crimes were escalating.”
He was not admitted.
Spiralling out of control
On release from Don Dale, Hyde developed a regular methamphetamine habit, and his life spiralled out of control.
In September last year after a series of armed robberies, aged 19, Hyde crashed a stolen car killing his best friend and injuring two other mates.
“Knowing that he’s going to have to live with that every day of his life, for the rest of his life. That was hard,” Ms Hyde said.
In June, aged 20, Hyde was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
On a family visit he opened up about what happened in youth detention.
“He was stripped naked, with four or five other Indigenous boys in Don Dale, and left locked up stripped naked with no bedding, no clothing, no bed, no nothing in the cells for a period of time, and I believe that was days,” she said.
When Ms Hyde saw that treatment on TV she was further horrified.
“Both my husband and I, it’s made us think, did we do the right thing in trusting the juvenile system to support those kids that go in there?” he said.
“I do have to wonder now did that have any impact on where he is now? You can’t treat someone that way in that regard and expect them to come out all right.”
NT Labor Government on notice
In her investigations the NT Children’s Commissioner has found restraints, forced stripping, prolonged isolation, and inadequate mental health services can damage youth detainees.
Colleen Gwynne has found some of that treatment was illegal and she has put the new NT Labor Government on notice.
“They are fully aware that there are some real problems in terms of adhering to basic human rights, if we don’t even talk about the breach of legislation. Monitoring is quite intensive now,” she said.
“We might find that there will be other issues within the detention centres, but I know we’re working very hard to try and provide a much different environment.”
Hyde is considering whether to join four former Don Dales detainees taking legal action against the NT Government.
He told his mother he tried unsuccessfully to contact lawyers from the adult prison to blow the whistle.
“He asked me to keep my eye out for some mail or an email that would come through,” Ms Hyde said.
The NT Labor Government is keen to show it is making changes.
It has upgraded recreation facilities in Don Dale, legislated against mechanical restraint chairs and promised more mental health services.
Families Minister Dale Wakefield added: “We made a pre-election commitment around youth drug and alcohol services as well.
“We also need to be looking at what are the supports that can continue through to make sure kids have a successful pathway out of the justice system.”
Hyde can apply for parole in five years’ time.
Ms Hyde has watched him refocus on future with his partner and 18 month old baby.
She hopes in the meantime his royal commission evidence will prompt change.
“No child, no matter what the issues are, should be treated in that manner by anybody,” Ms Hyde said.
“That’s why I’ve agreed to talk to you: if this will help any in trying to get the royal commission to look at those types of occurrences never occurring again, and try to get the support, or the resources that are required. I don’t have the answers, but we need to do something.”
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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