Northern Territory’s youth justice system in crisis

The Northern Territory’s youth justice system needs a thorough overhaul in light of fresh allegations of mistreatment emerging after the  resignation of the Northern Territory’s Corrections Commissioner, Mr Ken Middlebrook.

The Human Right’s Law Centre’s Senior Lawyer, Ruth Barson, said that the case of a 17 year old boy being hooded and strapped to a chair for close to two hours suggests there is a pattern of mistreating young people in the Northern Territory’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. 

“It is deeply concerning that yet another case of a child having their human rights violated has emerged. The Northern Territory must once and for all commit to treating children in detention humanely. These types of punitive practices must end,” said Ms Barson. 

In September this year, the Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner released a report detailing cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment inside the former Don Dale youth detention facility, including the use of prolonged solitary confinement; the use of dogs and tear gas; and restraint practices such as hooding and cuffing of young people.

The HRLC sent a request to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture for intervention, with a view to ensuring the Northern Territory Government comply with its international human rights law obligations. 

“You have to question whether the Northern Territory Government is taking its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child seriously. If it's genuinely committed to the wellbeing of vulnerable children in its care, it needs to seriously rethink the way it’s treating them. It is clear that the Northern Territory’s youth justice system needs a thorough overhaul,” said Ms Barson. 

Julian Cleary, Indigenous Rights Campaigner at Amnesty International, said that there's no place for the Northern Territory’s punitive youth detention practices in a progressive country like Australia. 

“Young people are fundamentally different to adults and must be treated in a way that prioritises their best interests. Evidence shows that the best way to keep our community safe in the long run is to focus on the rehabilitation and education of children. The Northern Territory’s current youth justice system is failing these children and the wider community,” said Mr Cleary. 

The Northern Territory has the highest rate of youth detention in the country. Over 95% of the children in youth detention in the NT are Aboriginal. This week, the NT Government announced that all children detained in Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre will be transferred to Darwin. 

“We’re talking about children as young as 10, being held thousands of kilometres away from their families and communities. This will only undermine their wellbeing and eventual rehabilitation,” said Mr Cleary. 

Last year, all children detained in Darwin were moved from the former Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, to the Berrimah adult prison, which has since been re-named Don Dale. 

“There is currently a heat wave in Darwin. We have received reports that children are being locked down for up to 15 hours per day in prison cells that have no air conditioning, and that are reaching temperatures of 35 degrees. A decommissioned, run-down, adult prison is clearly not an appropriate facility for children,” said Ms Barson. 

For further information or comments, contact:
Ruth Barson, Human Rights Law Centre Senior Lawyer, 0417 773 037
Julian Cleary, Amnesty International Indigenous Rights Campaigner, 0432 516 512