Berrimah Prison not good enough for our kids: Community organisations call for better deal for Territory’s most vulnerable

Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, peak organisations, community welfare and public health groups from the Northern Territory and around the country are calling for a new direction in youth justice policy in the Northern Territory.

The Northern Territory has the highest youth detention rate in Australia. The NT youth detention rate is 6 times the national average.[1]

“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”, said NAAJA CEO Priscilla Collins.

The NT also has the most alarming over-representation of Aboriginal young people in detention. Aboriginal people comprise 30% of the Northern Territory’s population, yet approximately 98% of young people in detention.

The announcement by the Northern Territory Government 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) is a major step backwards.

Berrimah Prison was described by the Corrections Commissioner in 2011 as so run down that it should be bulldozed. The NT Government will spend $800,000 to refurbish Berrimah Prison, which will include painting, installation of CCTV and some additional internal fencing, and removal of grills and bars to ‘soften’ the buildings.
“How can it be considered acceptable to house our most vulnerable young people in a place that was too run down to accommodate adults?” said Olga Havnen, CEO of the Danila Dilba Health Service.
One of the objects of the 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 therapeutic environment that can help them on a path to rehabilitation. It is also essential that when 9 out of 10 young people in detention are Aboriginal, that youth detention is culturally appropriate”, said John Paterson, CEO of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory (AMSANT).

We are concerned that Northern Territory young people will detained in facilities that fall short of detention facilities in other states and territories and that do not meet the national, Australasian Juvenile Justice Standards (AJJA).

The Northern Territory should follow the lead of WA and NSW and introduce an Independent Custodial Inspector with unfettered access to youth detention centres to ensure national and International standards are being complied with”, said Amnesty International’s Rodney Dillon.

We call on the Northern Territory 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 3 years ago was considered only fit for a bulldozer?”, said Ms Havnen.
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