The 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.
URGENT REQUEST FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY GOVERNMENT
- New model for youth detention
The 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
• 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.