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Issue #1661      October 22, 2014

Action urged on NT youth policy

Aboriginal community-controlled organisations and other major groups are calling for a new direction in youth justice policy in the Northern Territory.

The call follows the NT government decision to close the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin and move all young people in detention to Darwin Correctional Centre (Berrimah Prison) when adult prisoners are moved to the new Darwin Correctional Precinct (DCP).

The NT has the highest youth detention rate in Australia – six times the national average. Aboriginal people comprise 30% of the Territory’s population, yet about 98% of young people in detention.

North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) chief executive Priscilla Collins says the NT needs to take urgent steps to reduce the number of Aboriginal young people being exposed to youth detention. “We need more diversionary and non-custodial options for dealing with young offenders,” she said.

Berrimah Prison was described by the NT Corrections Commissioner in 2011 as so run down that it should be bulldozed.

The government says it will spend $800,000 to refurbish the jail, including painting, installation of closed-circuit TV and some additional internal fencing, and removal of grills and bars to “soften” the buildings. That’s not good enough for Danila Dilba Health Service chief executive Olga Havnen.

“How can it be considered acceptable to house our most vulnerable young people in a place that was too run down to accommodate adults?” she asked.

Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory (AMSANT) chief executive John Paterson says one of the requirements under the NT Youth Justice Act is that a youth who has committed an offence is given appropriate treatment, punishment and rehabilitation.

“We need to listen to the experts and ensure that young people in detention are housed in a therapeutic environment that can help them on a path to rehabilitation,” he said. “It is also essential that when nine out of ten young people in detention are Aboriginal, that youth detention is culturally appropriate.”

Amnesty International’s Rodney Dillon said the NT should follow the lead of Western Australia and NSW and introduce an independent custodial inspector with unfettered access to youth detention centres to ensure national and international standards are being met.

The groups called on the NT government to commit to build purpose-built youth detention facilities in Darwin and Alice Springs, and give proof that Berrimah Prison will meet national youth detention benchmarks.

“These could be your children – is it really acceptable to put our most vulnerable kids in an adult prison that three years ago was considered fit only for a bulldozer?” Ms Havnen asked.

Koori Mail

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