Juvenile justice: Return to failed programs?

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OpEd by KIRSTEN WILSON

Crime is a common political battleground – and nowhere more so than the Northern Territory.

Four years ago, Labor swept into power promising to reform the child protection and juvenile justice systems. It came off the back of shocking revelations of human rights abuses against children and young people in detention, and shamefully high rates of Aboriginal youth incarceration.

The NT’s justice system wasn’t just ineffective, it was harmfully trapping young people in a life of reoffending and trauma, and served absolutely no one.

The reforms to improve our youth justice system are underway, but they are also long term and change takes time to see.

This can be a dangerous thing around election time.

It can take a moment to cut a program, such as in 2012 when the Country Liberal Party cut after hours youth services in Alice Springs and Palmerston, but the effects are lasting.  And sadly, restoring them does not instantly rewind the clock.

However, three years into the reforms and investment committed by the current government there are signs offending rates are decreasing and fewer young people are cycling through the system.

Just when we are starting to see positive change, it’s dismaying to see parties return once again to failed policies.

Territory Alliance remains committed to a youth curfew, despite their own research showing that curfews don’t work. Experience in Australia and overseas consistently tell us that they don’t reduce crime, and in some cases, can increase overall offending.

The CLP’s announcement this week to introduce tougher bail laws are just a rehash of their failed 2016 policy.

Tougher bail laws don’t work. The NT Royal Commission found that the introduction of tougher bail laws for young people in 2011 just increased the number of Aboriginal kids being unnecessarily locked up, many who were not even found guilty of their original charge.

Under current laws, police can and do pick kids up who have breached their bail conditions. Police can and do arrest kids who commit offences while out on bail. This hasn’t changed.

The CLP proposal isn’t about locking kids up because they have committed a crime while on bail, this is about slapping additional charges on kids for “technical breaches of bail”. That is, being charged because they aren’t at the right place at the right time.

The Royal Commission reforms are starting to get positive results, and most kids are sticking to their bail conditions.

The number of young people completing their bail orders has nearly tripled since 2015. Police data also shows that 74% young people who undertook youth justice conferences did not re-offend.  This is against national statistics that show that 80% of kids who serve time in prison reoffend within 12 months.

It’s shameful to see parties play political football with Aboriginal kids, putting up proposals that they know are unnecessary and will actually make our communities less safe.

[The author is the chairperson of Central Australian Youth Justice.]

2 COMMENTS

  1. The cutting of youth services in 2012 was no doubt a poorly considered decision.
    Question: Where does CAYJ (connected to NTCOSS I believe) get funding?
    It appears NTCOSS lives off grants – about a million a year. Are the majority of these government grants?
    Always good to know where the money comes from behind an organisation’s work as it presents a risk of bias.

  2. I applaud Kirsten Wilson to clearly specify how juvenile justice is not a matter of punishment on the spot, but it takes a long way to success to allow kids to grow up as citizens and not criminals.
    Curfew, more severe bail conditions or incarceration do not achieve the results for a better or safer community.
    It seems that three years of Labor policies have actually reduced juvenile crimes.
    Let’s proceed with it rather than reverse the clock. Or the achievements so far would be a waste of time and resources.
    Maya Cifali, Alice Springs.

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