Government backflip leaves Centre's youth worst off


2479 juvenile detention 1 OKThe Central Australian Youth Justice committee condemns the NT Government’s backflip on Royal Commission reforms and demands action for Alice Springs.
The committee, made up of representatives of NGOs working with young people, advocates for their rights and needs  in the youth justice system in Central Australia.
CAYJ is alarmed at the NT Government’s regressive and dangerous amendments to the Youth Justice Act and calls for the NT Government to recommit to implementing the Royal Commission recommendations in full, and repeal these amendments.
“Almost 75%  [as of 25 March] of young people in detention in the Northern Territory are from the Centre. These children are being doubly punished by these changes,” said Adrian Scholtes, Acting Chair and spokesperson for CAYJ.
“Young people from Alice Springs and the Barkly are punished by being sent to detention, and then they are punished again by being locked up in a detention centre that’s not fit for purpose, or being sent over a thousand kilometres away from their families to Don Dale where they can’t receive visits from the people who love them.
“By the Minister’s own admission the detention centre in Alice Springs is too small and not fit for purpose. These amendments give free reign to the Superintendent to send children from Alice Springs up to Don Dale against their wishes, the wishes of their parents and family, and the advice of their lawyers.
“Sending 12, 13 and 14 year old children almost one thousand kilometres away from their family is contrary to the Royal Commission recommendations and deeply distressing for these children.
“These amendments also weaken protections for children in detention and make it more likely that they will be exposed to the kinds of conditions that led to the Royal Commission in the first place.
“The Northern Territory Government has rushed through amendments without speaking to the Aboriginal community, the young people, their families, lawyers, doctors or any of the service providers with expertise in promoting the rehabilitation, care and protection of these young people.
“Aboriginal children held in care of Territory Families are some of the most vulnerable children in the country. They deserve the opportunity to turn their lives around, grow up and learn like every other child.
“CAYJ calls on Northern Territory Government to stick to the promises it made to the community when the horrors of Don Dale and the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre were first exposed.
“We have issued five urgent requests of the Northern Territory Government to protect the safety and wellbeing of these young people (see below). We call on the Northern Territory Government to recommit to implementing the Royal Commission recommendations in full, reverse these dangerous amendments, and genuinely work with community to give these young people the best possible chance in life,”  said Mr Scholtes.

  1. New model for youth detention

p2428 Royal Commissioners 1The Royal Commission found that the model of detention used at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre is unsound. The Minister has conceded that the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre is not fit for purpose.
CAYJ asks the Northern Territory Government urgently embark on the “new beginning” spelled out in the Royal Commission findings and invest in small, residential facilities that focus on delivering therapeutic and educational services to these children.

  1. Raise the age

CAYJ is alarmed that no action has been taken to raise the age that children can be incarcerated in line with Royal Commission recommendations, calls from the Australian Medical Association and international standards.

  1. Train, support and resource staff

Young people in detention, and workers, will only be safe if staff are adequately trained, supported and resourced. In line with Royal Commission recommendation CAYJ asks the Northern Territory Government to urgently move towards a permanent staffing model for youth justice officers, increase the ratio of staff to young person and ensure training in therapeutic service delivery is of a high quality and is ongoing.

  1. Keeping kids on country

Almost 75% of young people in detention are from Alice Springs and yet they are routinely transferred to Don Dale in response to staffing and capacity constraints. The Royal Commission recommends that a child or young person is placed in a detention facility nearest to the place of residence of his or her family or carer. CAYJ urgently calls on the Northern Territory Government to improve the facilities in the Centre so that children and young people in detention are not separated from their families.

  1. Force as last resort

The Royal Commission was very clear – the use of force should only be permitted only in circumstances where all other measures have failed. CAYJ calls on the Northern Territory Government to reverse the recent amendments and reinstate clarity around the exceptional circumstances in which force should be authorised against children and young people.
NT Government’s changes to the Youth Justice Act: 
The government passed amendments to the Youth Justice Act on 21 March, saying that they clarified and tightened the existing framework for managing safety and security risks within the youth detention centres.

They say the amendments provide youth detention centre staff with a clear and unambiguous framework for exercising their powers, and will enable them to have a very clear guideline in their decision making when responding to dangerous and challenging situations.
The amendments:

• Clarify the circumstances in which force and restraints may be used, to account for situations where detainees may act in a way that threatens the safety or security of a detention centre, but not in a way that presents an imminent risk;

• Create a consistent test to determine what is a reasonable use of force and restraints;

• Clarify the meaning of an emergency situation, which is relevant to the general application of all uses of force ;

• Clarify the definition of separation;

• Enable screening and pat down searches of detainees in a broader range of circumstances;

• Include an express power to transfer a detainee from one detention centre to another.

The amendments will remove any uncertainty around the operation of existing powers in the legislation, for both youth detention centre staff and detainees, says the government.
The amendments will apply retrospectively to the date in which the original provisions of the Act commenced (May 2018). This will remove any doubt about the original intention of these key provisions in the legislation.

Sources: media releases from CAYJ and the NT Government.




  1. Keeping kids on country, close to family, should be a no brainer.
    We want these kids to come out with a more positive outlook and a chance to turn their lives around.
    Smaller detentions centres are needed. Build one in Alice, sure, but build one also in Katherine, Tennant, Elliott, Yuendumu, Ntaria, Santa Teresa.
    Keep kids close to country, kin culture, and make more jobs in the regions.
    Poverty is one of the underlying causes of crime and regional jobs is a way to tackle that.

  2. Ever since Gunner & Wakefield’s useless Family Services Group took over Juvenile Corrections & Criminal Pandering Intervention Programs in the NT, only just two short years ago now , all of their own “Reoffending Age Allowed” Family Services criminal clients have been absolutely loving not being accountable to the Pathetic Law Courts or General Public that are sick to death of these failed criminal pandering, criminal allowance Family Services Groups that are stopping nothing, with all their failed soft serve Intervention bullshit.
    Give all Corrections back to the Corrections Department experts.

  3. I totally agree with Dr Ongo. I will add: Bring back the Kadaitcha Man. Let him talk with the voice of Douglas Lockwood (We, the Aborigines).
    “There was a time when I kept order among our youths. We had no bodgies, no widgies, no teddyboys.
    “At my command the young men were taken from the women’s campfires and given the facts of life by The Elders.
    “There was no molly-coddling with us. We taught them the hard way, with initiations, with trials by ordeal, with with ritualism which scarified and purified any who might be straying towards juvenile delinquency.”

  4. Handball the whole problem to the NT Law Society for them to administer and personally look after these people.
    After all, between them and sections of the media they seem to be able to point out all the problems, and make all the money from them.

  5. AB, there is obviously a reason why they are remanded with bail denied. This could be the seriousness of the alleged offending, the lack of adequate family support if granted on bail, or the reasonable prospect of conviction, with time served on remand taken into account in sentencing.

  6. Evelyne, you have absolutely nailed it. Sadly the pandering virtue signallers that Matthew refers to will protect them from that and guarantee their spiral into a life of incarceration.

  7. Local 1: Not so long ago the Court used to go to communities, and the guilty party had the choice to choose his/her punishment: Aborigines’ or Europeans’ laws.
    The Aboriginal peoples of Australia had a complex system of law long before the establishment of British law in Australia.
    Their system of law is often referred to as “traditional law”.
    It relates to the common features of acceptable and unacceptable behavior in Aboriginal communities.
    Traditional law is comparable with the Ten Commandments, it has rules regarding “homicide, sacrilege, sorcery, incest, abduction of women, adultery, physical assault, theft, insult, including swearing, and the usurpation or ritual privileges and duties” as well as to offences.
    For example not sharing food is an offence under traditional law.
    As a tour guide, I had the privilege to listen to Jewish elders comparing their laws with Aboriginal elders to discover they were the same.


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