The sister of Dylan Voller, the teen at the centre of the royal commission into youth detention in the Northern Territory, has written a heartfelt plea to the government to fund accommodation for vulnerable youth in Alice Springs.
BuzzFeed News has obtained the letter written by Kirra Voller imploring the Northern Territory chief minister Michael Gunner to invest in a youth accommodation centre in Alice Springs to curb the high number of young people ending up behind bars.
"I am writing to you because I don't think you can quite see for yourselves being so high up in your positions, that you are failing the next generation," Voller wrote to Gunner.
"If you continue to lock these children away for petty crimes like stealing clothes or materialistic possessions or breaking a window, then you are potentially destroying their lives, creating criminals and instilling in their minds that that's all they can be."
Voller said the number of children being arrested for minor crimes on the street was leading to a generation of kids in juvenile detention. She told Gunner one solution could be a large-scale accommodation facility.
"Imagine if there [was] a centre these kids who are on the streets had to be in, with buses to take them home, 200 beds in case they just don't feel like going home," Voller wrote.
In the letter Voller wrote candidly about her own experiences growing up in Alice Springs. Prior to turning 15 she would rebel against her mother and walk the streets.
In one incident, when she was 13, her mother called the police to scare her into staying home.
"I remember her threatening me, 'That's it, I called the police they'll tell you 13-year-olds aren't allowed to walk the streets'.
"So the police got there and told my mother that if she didn't unlock the doors and let me out, I could charge her with deprivation of liberty!
"Imagine that, me a 13-year-old charging my mother for locking me inside from the world from drugs and alcohol and partying, and there were the police, policing and telling me I could go! Can you imagine the power I had over my mother after that?"
At 15, Voller fell pregnant. She said she was acutely aware that she was "being watched" by child welfare authorities.
For Voller, salvation came in the form of music after taking part in the Desert Divas music program for Aboriginal women.
Voller went on to become a musician and a mentor to young Aboriginal women, while her brother Dylan slipped through the cracks of the child protection and detention system.
Footage of Dylan being brutalised in detention sparked the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.
"These are your children you need to take responsibility for them. You removed them from people who care and love them and now that's your responsibility. You basically put your hand up and said you could do a better job and help to better that child's life," Voller wrote to Gunner.
The NT government announced on Wednesday that it was investing $18.2 million annually "to help stop crime before it happens and break the cycle of crime that has been going on for far too long".
“The youth justice system is broken and today is the first big step towards fixing it,” Gunner said.
The money will be spent on 52 new youth diversionary officers, programs to reduce re-offending and a new system to help people on bail.
“This reform package is about investing not only in our kids, but into the Northern Territory to ensure the right system is in place for a strong, safe and connected community,” said minister for Territory families Dale Wakefield.
The NT locks up young people at a rate that is three times higher than other states. Ninety-seven percent of the population in NT youth detention are Aboriginal.
Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.
Contact Allan Clarke at arielle.benedek+AC@buzzfeed.com.
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