NT Government kick starts law reform to end cruel and inhuman treatment in youth jails

NT Government kick starts law reform to end cruel and inhuman treatment in youth jails

Children in the Northern Territory will be better protected from Don Dale-like abuse behind bars with the Gunner Government today passing landmark laws that will prohibit harm to children. The laws will solidify key recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.

Shahleena Musk, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre who spent years representing children in Don Dale, said this is a crucial step towards tackling the systemic and shocking failures in NT’s youth jails.

"The culture and permissiveness of the Territory’s youth detention centres enabled the systemic abuse of children. Abuse that included chokeholds, tear gas, spit hoods, handcuffs and restraint chairs. Australia was shocked when confronted with the horrific images of child abuse within our youth prisons. These laws are a significant first step to ensure children behind bars are safe," said Ms Musk.

The legislative changes include: 

  • Prohibiting the use of solitary confinement and clearly defining the circumstances and ways in which children can be separated when in detention;
  • Prohibiting routine strip searches and clearly limiting and defining the circumstances when strip searches can be conducted; 
  • Prohibiting the use of force, restraints and isolation for the purposes of disciplining a child in detention; and
  • Clearly defining and limiting the circumstances as to when and how force and restraints can be used on children in detention.

The Royal Commission made specific recommendations about the circumstances in which force could be used on a child so as to set clear and binding limits. The Commission highlighted that where laws ‘are broad and involve subjective judgements, this can also lead to results that contravene human rights standards. This can also lead to the abuse of power over vulnerable children who are often physically small and very young’.

"Too many children, families and communities have been harmed by our punitive and ineffective child protection and youth justice systems. These laws show the NT Government is serious about providing humane facilities that protect children’s rights," said Ms Musk.

The majority of states and territories in Australia currently have laws that allow children to be routinely strip searched, held in solitary confinement and be subjected to excessive restraints. Ms Musk said that other jurisdictions must follow the Northern Territory’s lead. 

"All children should be treated with dignity and respect. But across Australia we know that children continue to be abused behind bars. Every single state and territory must change their laws and prohibit cruel and inhuman treatment. How we treat children today shapes our tomorrow," said Ms Musk.

For interviews or further information please call:

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

(Photo creditBidgee)