Te Puna Wai youth justice facility boss called to give evidence in juvenile abuse enquiry

Te Puna Wai site manager Russell Caldwell is the former general manager of Australia's Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, ...
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Te Puna Wai site manager Russell Caldwell is the former general manager of Australia's Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, which is at the centre of a royal commission.

The manager of the South Island's only youth justice facility has been called to give evidence at a hearing into the abuse of juveniles in Australia.

The hearing, part of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, started on Monday morning in Darwin.

Russell Caldwell, site manager at Te Puna Wai near Christchurch, will give evidence as the former general manager of Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, which is at the centre of the investigation.

A detainee is strapped to a chair at Darwin's Don Dale Detention Centre.
ABC

A detainee is strapped to a chair at Darwin's Don Dale Detention Centre.

Caldwell was appointed to a management roll at Christchurch Men's Prison last year, but was turned away after details of the abuse were revealed. 

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In July last year, ABC TV released videos of facility officers allegedly abusing detainees at Don Dale, including tear gassing six boys and strapping one to a chair.

Caldwell had oversight of Don Dale for about 18 months from October 2013, before becoming the residence manager at Te Puna Wai.

The Australian royal commission was launched at the beginning of August, and the current hearing is scheduled to conclude on March 31.

Commissioners travelled to Auckland and Wellington in February to investigate alternative approaches to youth justice and detention.

In a statement, the commission said New Zealand's model was based on restorative justice principles and focused on community-based action outside of the formal criminal justice system.

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"There is an emphasis on diversion, with youth offenders required to face up to and be accountable for their actions."

Te Puna Wai came under fire in the 2016 State of Care report by the Office of the Children's Commissioner, which said management practices at the site were causing harm to children.

Child, Youth and Family deputy chief executive Murray Edridge said Caldwell "inherited" several challenges and was turning Te Puna Wai around.

"Since his appointment he has successfully led a programme of improvements, and the 2016 State of Care report by the Office of the Children's Commissioner outlined progress Russell has been making."

Edridge said the commission "needs to run its course and we will consider the outcomes of the inquiry carefully".

A former employee of Te Puna Wai, who wanted to remain anonymous, said staff were concerned about Caldwell's previous involvement at Don Dale.

"How is he able to be in charge of an institution for vulnerable children?"

Edridge said the Ministry of Social Development continued "to have full confidence in [Caldwell's] work".

"A great deal of change has taken place at Te Puna Wai o Tuhinapo, and there is still more to come.

"We need to acknowledge that some people find change difficult, and we are committed to supporting staff through that, but ultimately we have a responsibility to do what's best for the safety and wellbeing of the young people in our care."

 - Stuff

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