There is something unsettling about the way we think about punishment. This week, as Four Corners revealed shocking conditions and treatment of juvenilles at the Don Dale detention centre in the Northern Territory, the first response was reflective horror.
Then, today, we began to see the arguments that really, this treatment was for the children’s own good.
Writing for News Corp, former governor of Grafton Gaol John Heffernan called the response to the revelations an “overreaction”.
He argued the restraint chair that has appalled the nation was an “approved” way of giving a “time out”.
“I’m sorry, but through my experienced eyes I see a juvenile offender, who has obviously been acting out, being provided time out, restrained in an approved chair, with an approved “spit hood” covering his head,” he said.
Sorry Mr Heffernan, torture is not just tooth extraction, nail pulling and the rack. It’s not just hanging people upside down, or scalding them with boiling water. It’s not just syringes full of truth serum administered by accented goon squads in films.
Watch a clip from the Four Corners episode. Post continues after video.
Children are never supposed to be kept in isolation. It’s also not recommended for adults.
Involuntary sensory deprivation is considered a form of torture, and that spit hood certainly fits that bill.
These items might be approved, but it doesn’t make them OK.
When someone is convicted of a crime, no matter what that crime is, they enter a system that is designed to punish them, yes, but also to protect our society and rehabilitate them.
The goal of incarceration must be twofold. It must be punitive and rehabilitative, because most prisoners are eventually released. In Australia, all juvenile offenders certainly are.
Would we rather send them into the world damaged, violent and institutionalised or with a shot at a different life? A life that doesn’t involve a cycle of imprisonment and release.
— Sally Neighbour (@neighbour_s) July 27, 2016