“Why should we listen to you? What hope can you offer us when we’re sitting in here?” That’s the question Anglican youth minister Bruce Chapman is often confronted with when he visits inmates at Don Dale youth detention centre in the Northern Territory.

17-year olf Dylan Voller is strapped into a mechanical restraint chair in March 2015

17-year old Dylan Voller is strapped into a mechanical restraint chair in March 2015. Shocking footage of abuse in a Northern Territory youth detention centre was aired on ABC’s Four Corners programme on Monday night. Four Corners, ABC

The detention centre has come under national scrutiny this week after damning footage of widespread abuse of juvenile inmates was aired on ABC’s Four Corners programme on Monday night.

The graphic footage shows prison guards stripping, assaulting and mistreating a teenage boy, and shows the same boy, along with five others, being sprayed with tear gas in August 2014.

“It’s a hard place to go in to,” says Chapman, who has been visiting the centre since late 2015. “I find it quite challenging going in each time.”

When confronted with questions by the boys he meets about why he bothers and what he’s doing there, Chapman says, “our answer is that we’ve all done things wrong. But there’s a God who tells us he loves us and has done something to rescue us, and so that’s the message of hope we want to bring.

“There is a God who loves you and this isn’t all there is in the world.”

Chapman says that hope is “received really well”.

“They look forward to our visits,” he tells Eternity. 

Chapman says, in his opinion, centres like Don Dale are punitive systems. “They’re not really set up as a centre to rehabilitate.”

In response to the Four Corners report, and the subsequent community outrage, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced yesterday that he will establish a royal commission into Northern Territory juvenile detention, a move that has been welcomed by Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs, and many other advocates around the nation. The terms of reference for the Royal Commission are yet to be established, but several calls have been for the commission to have broader reach to look at abuse in youth detention centres nationwide.

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