In Conversation with Dylan Voller: (Re)imagining justice for Aboriginal young people

In Conversation with Dylan Voller: (Re)imagining justice for Aboriginal young people

In Conversation with Dylan Voller: (Re)imagining justice for Aboriginal young people

On Universal Children’s Day, Dylan Voller – Aboriginal activist and former detainee of the Don Dale detention centre – spoke at Macquarie University and declared that “children don’t belong in custody, they belong on Country”.

He called for alternative solutions that can reconnect Aboriginal children with their culture and country and stop the over-incarceration of Aboriginal young people.

In a conversation organised by Walanga Muru and the Macquarie Law School, Voller shared his personal experiences of incarceration which he experienced from the age of 11 and presented a range of alternatives to locking up Aboriginal children and young people. He spoke about programs that helped him connect to culture and Country such as the now defunded ‘BushMob’ program.

Dylan Voller speaking at Macquarie University. 

Voller spoke of the cycle of criminalisation of Aboriginal children, abuse and cruel treatment by poorly-trained guards, and the resulting rebellious behaviour of incarcerated youth.

“The higher-ups think that the kids must be violent criminals, and [the guards] should go as harsh as they can to rehabilitate them, but it actually makes your mental health worse and makes you become more violent,” Voller told the audience. “It made me think that what was going on was okay, that I deserved it.”

The panel expressed their collective frustration and anger at the ongoing impacts of the Northern Territory Intervention and removal of children from Country, as well as the lack of action in the year since the findings of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory were handed down.

Don Dale detention centre remains open, despite the Royal Commission’s recommendation it be closed immediately, and no individual guards have been prosecuted for their actions against child detainees. These actions include physically abusing and tear gassing children.

Voller suggested that aside from changing policies, the mentality and training of front-line workers responsible for the care of Aboriginal youth need to improve for progress to be achieved.

Jarrett and Voller reinforced the need for Aboriginal children to regain their connections to Country, and commended organisations that run rehabilitation programs ‘out bush’ for Aboriginal youth.

“We need to put kids’ futures back in the hands of the communities and take it away from the police,” Voller said.

“When kids get disconnected from their culture, they get lost. If they were given rehabilitation, study opportunities or work opportunities; instead of just throwing them in jail, if they were inspired or shown that there are opportunities in life to be able to grab onto, they can go on to do magnificent things.”

Listen to the full conversation here.

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