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Issue #1676      March 11, 2015

Youth detention system “failing”

A review of youth detention facilities in the Northern Territory has found the entire system is failing Aboriginal young people. The report by former Long Bay Prison superintendent Michael Vita also called on Aboriginal legal and justice agencies to do more to support vulnerable young Indigenous people, who make up 96 percent of the juveniles in detention in the NT.

“The NT youth detention population has risen steadily, particularly over the last two years,” Mr Vita says in the report. “This has placed pressure on the infrastructure and capacity of its detention facilities.”

The report found that Indigenous offenders are more likely to have committed their first offence at a younger age than other detainees; more likely to have been charged multiple times; and more likely to have been placed in detention for serious offences, such as acts intending to cause injury.

On average, over the past three years 90 percent of juvenile detainees are male. The report said the NT Youth Detention Centres (YDCs) were battling to cope with the increased number of young people in detention and an increase in violent offences.

“Youth detention facilities in the NT are struggling to maintain service level standards in the absence of a coherent operating philosophy, staff training, direction, appropriate infrastructure and leadership,” Mr Vita said.

The report said it costs $700 a day to keep a young person in detention. It suggested that Aboriginal legal and justice services consider reorganising their budgets to spend more time at YDCs and with young offenders.

It also criticised NT legal and justice agencies, including the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS) and NT Legal Aid, for not being more active and public about advocacy for Aboriginal juvenile detainees, saying-they should publish their submissions on their websites and contribute more positive ideas to keeping Aboriginal children out of detention.

Funding cut

CAALAS acting chief executive Mark O’Reilly said funding to its youth justice advocacy program had been cut, and he called on the NT government to reinstate it.

“NAAJA and CAALAS provide high quality legal and justice services to Aboriginal young people,” he said. “We have dedicated, specialist youth justice teams that have been nationally recognised for the high quality, holistic services we provide to Aboriginal young people.”

NAAJA chief executive Priscilla Collins said the NT government should commit to reforming the entire youth justice system. “It needs to commit funding for supported bail accommodation to avoid kids being refused bail purely because they have nowhere else to go,” she said.

“We need programs and services that are youth-specific – alcohol and other drug treatment, counselling, mental health services and expert social workers.

“The government must commit to providing evidence-based programs to support vulnerable young people and reduce re-offending rates, instead of putting $2 million into boot camps that have no evidence base at all.”

Mr Vita found there were serious problems with the way staff were trained and the way children in detention were managed and that some children in detention had been mistreated.

He said the new YDC at Berrimah in Darwin was an appropriate facility for young people and that the Aranda House YDC should not be reopened.

NAAJA and CAALAS also called on the NT Government to establish an independent custodial inspector.

The review found:

  • 96% of young people in detention in the NT are Aboriginal.
  • 90% of children in detention in the NT are male.
  • It costs $698.40 per day to keep a child in detention in the NT.
  • Over the past three years the average number of juveniles in detention in the NT has increased by 22% from 38 to 42.

Koori Mail

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