Like most Australians, I reacted with horror to the revelations of child abuse in detention centres in the Northern Territory. The images from the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre shocked and appalled the nation—images of boys being tear-gassed, or stripped and tied to chairs, their faces covered with hoods; or the fact that some were left in solitary confinement for up to 17 days. At the time, I called on the Government to assure New South Wales citizens that what we saw at Don Dale did not and could not happen here. There were calls from others for the royal commission in the Northern Territory to be expanded to all States, so we could be assured children caught up in juvenile detention are being rehabilitated and properly cared for, especially Indigenous kids who disproportionately populate our detention centres. I and others made those calls because we understand that there is simply no circumstance in which subjecting young people to solitary confinement or bouts of isolation is acceptable. Yet that is exactly what we now know has occurred in New South Wales.
A fundamental tenet of our society is that we have entered a pact. We respect and celebrate our freedoms, but can be forced to surrender them if we break the law or cause harm to another person. What is often forgotten is that although we may lose our freedom, we do not lose our rights. For a young person caught up in the law, detention should be the last resort. It should be one of many options, all focused on rehabilitation and helping that young person to realise their full potential in our community. For that to occur, our justice system must be focused on preventing criminal activity in the first place, on diverting young people from detention and if there is no alternative to detention, ensuring they leave more equipped than when they go in. Those aims are achieved by properly investing in our justice system, by investing in our communities to address the root causes of crime, by adequately funding diversionary programs like the merit and credit programs, by properly funding mental health and addiction services and by making sure that those in detention are offered quality education. And for young people, those aims are achieved by helping them better understand empathy and their connection to other people.
The practice of solitary confinement or locking kids in isolation is diametrically opposed to that approach—it teaches them nothing and only causes greater harm. Like the many residents who wrote to me about this issue, I was frankly disgusted to learn that young people have been subjected to isolation whilst in detention in New South Wales. We have now learned that children have been kept in isolation for up to 23 hours. We know that at least one detainee spent 166 days in isolation—that is, 166 days without meaningful contact with another human being. We know that two young men are planning legal action after being subjected to long periods of isolation as recently as in the past few months. One cut his own face after a period of isolation and, tragically, the other attempted to take his own life by hanging himself with his shorts. This is all at the same time as the Minister for Corrections claimed in budget estimates hearings that solitary confinement and isolation were not practised here.
I welcome the Minister's decision to launch a review into the practice of solitary confinement and I welcome the announcement of a $1 million fund to help high-risk offenders. But the community is right to ask questions about how the Minister failed to know that this was happening in juvenile detention in this State. The community is right to ask why the practice is being used at all. The community is right to ask where this Government's priorities lie when it has permitted this to happen, while at the same time cutting funding for the CREDIT program and outsourcing education services in our prisons. The community is right to ask whether we are doing anything to close the gap regarding Indigenous incarceration rates, particularly now that those rates are worse than after the royal commission 25 years ago.
I call on the Minister to launch a full inquiry into youth detention, because these questions deserve answers. An internal review may have provided the Minister with the information he should have had back in September, but the community rightly deserves to know more. We want to know what the Minister knew and when he knew it, and we want to know how juvenile detention in New South Wales really measures up against best practice. But, most of all, we want to know how we can stop failing our young people.