Reforming an ineffective and harmful youth justice system in the NT

Reforming an ineffective and harmful youth justice system in the NT

The Northern Territory Government has been ineffective in its response to child offending and is failing to make communities safer, the Human Rights Law Centre told the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.

In its third submission to the Royal Commission, the Human Rights Law Centre said that the Government must reform the youth justice system based on evidence of what works.

Shahleena Musk, a Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre and former senior youth justice lawyer in Darwin said, “It is crucial that governments rely on the evidence of what is effective in responding to child offending instead of making it up as they go along. Children are fundamentally different from adults. Understanding and reflecting this difference is vital to addressing the issues with the youth justice system. A youth justice system modelled on adult prisons is a recipe for failure.”  

“Most of the children in the youth justice system have suffered significant disadvantage, trauma and health problems. For the vast majority of children who offend, detention is not an appropriate response and can harm the very objects we are trying to achieve – rehabilitation and community safety,” said Ms Musk.

The submission calls for changes to laws and for increased investment in community based alternatives to detention, including bail supports and rehabilitation programs, particularly Aboriginal community led solutions. 96 per cent of the youth detention population in the NT are Aboriginal.

“The current youth detention model does little to address factors leading to child offending. Many children are leaving detention worse off than when they went in. The NT Government must shift its priorities away from shoring up failed youth detention centres that warehouse children towards proven community based options like education, training and drug and alcohol programs that help kids get their lives back on track,” said Ms Musk.

“If the Government wants to turn kids’ lives around, they must give them every opportunity to reach their full potential. Ever harsher and more punitive responses will crush that potential,” added Ms Musk.

The HRLC’s submission to the inquiry can be read here.

Related: HRLC’s recommendation to prohibit solitary confinement

For media inquiries: 

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre: 0419 100 519