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Story highlights

Detained Australian teenage boy is shown wearing hood, shackled at neck, in documentary

Footage has led to calls for investigation into Australia's juvenile justice system

(CNN) —  

“The last time I saw him, he was broken.”

The sister of Dylan Voller spoke to CNN about the impact of her brother’s experience while in custody of an Australian youth detention system that is at the center of an abuse scandal.

“He couldn’t look me in the eyes, he couldn’t be honest with me, he couldn’t smile,” Kirra Voller says. “I felt like I’d lost my brother for a while.”

The "Four Corners" program reported that this image shows Dylan Voller, then 17, in a white hood, shackled at the neck with his arms strapped to a chair at a detention center in Alice Springs, Australia.
ABC/Four Corners
The "Four Corners" program reported that this image shows Dylan Voller, then 17, in a white hood, shackled at the neck with his arms strapped to a chair at a detention center in Alice Springs, Australia.

The teenage boy was shown in a white hood, shackled at the neck, with his arms strapped to a chair by staff at a detention center in Alice Springs, in a documentary aired this week by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Four Corners” program. He was 17 when the 2015 video was recorded.

“When I saw that footage, it really broke me,” Kirra Voller says. “I couldn’t bear to watch it, I really wanted to turn it off within the first two seconds of that film.”

The documentary also showed footage of other boys as young as 10 being tear-gassed, stripped naked, and thrown around their prison cells in juvenile detention centers across the Northern Territory, including the Don Dale center in Darwin.

Dylan Voller also had been at the Darwin center and was one of six teens who the ABC report said were tear-gassed there in 2014.

Australian leaders promise investigation

The revelations prompted Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to call for an official inquiry. Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles also says police have formed a special task force to look into the allegations.

But experts have criticized what they say is a lack of action on an issue they raised a long time ago.

Dylan Voller, a teenage detainee featured in the Australian news program on alleged abuse at detention centers, wrote a letter this week thanking "the whole Australian community for the support you have showed."
CNN
Dylan Voller, a teenage detainee featured in the Australian news program on alleged abuse at detention centers, wrote a letter this week thanking "the whole Australian community for the support you have showed."

Howard Bath, a former Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner, says he showed some recordings of alleged abuse to officials back in 2014.

“It’s hard to know why nothing happened,” Bath tells CNN. “I presume it is related to the culture of the department, and the fact that for many years there hadn’t been very clear external accountability.”

Bath says measures like banning the use of the hoods or restraining chairs will not be enough to end the abuse.

“We need to look at the culture of the systems that allow these sort of practices to develop,” Bath says.

The current Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner, Colleen Gwynne, also issued a report on the problem in August 2015.

“It is disappointing that so many of these recommendations still have not been implemented, when an urgent response would have been more appropriate,” Colleen Gwynne said in a statement to CNN.

“I would hope we might now see a coordinated, professional, high-level response to the issues raised,” she said.

’This is child torture’

Australian politicians and public figures responded with horror after the original footage was aired, with one federal politician describing it as “child torture.”

“Those responsible must be held to account for these crimes,” Liberal MP Sarah Henderson tweeted on the night.

Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs told CNN affiliate 7 News said if regular people were found to have treated children this way, they would be charged with a criminal offense.

In a statement released after the documentary aired Monday, Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles said he had removed John Elferink as minister of the territory’s correctional services portfolio.

After the footage in the documentary was filmed, Dylan Voller was moved to an adult jail when he turned 18 – a move that his sister says has changed his life.

“When he calls me, he sounds happy,” she says. “He sounds like he has hope again.”

CNN’s Vivian Kam, Yazhou Sun and Sandi Sidhu contributed to this report