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Lessons of youth detention review must be heeded

The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) and the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS) are alarmed at Michael Vita’s damning review of youth detention facilities in the Northern Territory.

NAAJA and CAALAS now look forward to seeing the details of the Government’s stated commitment to implementing all of the Review’s 16 recommendations.

“The Review reveals an underfunded system in total chaos. The Government is failing the most vulnerable children who are in their care. This must change,” NAAJA CEO, Priscilla Collins said.

“The Review makes clear that the system is seriously inadequate – poorly trained staff, no behaviour management methodology, no individual behaviour plans, no case management plans and no proper standard operating procedures to guide how youth detention centres are run,” said CAALAS Acting CEO, Mark O’Reilly.

There is an urgent need for more funding in the youth justice sector.

“Berrimah is not the answer. The NT Government must urgently develop plans for purpose built facilities to be built as soon as possible. This will not be cheap, but it is the only way the Northern Territory can provide the supports that vulnerable children need in an appropriate, therapeutic environment,” said Ms Collins

The report calls for overstretched and underfunded aboriginal legal services to spend more time at youth detention centres.

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

CAALAS will soon lose funding for its valuable Youth Justice Advocacy Program currently staffed by a youth worker with over 15 years working with children and young people involved in the justice system in Central Australia.   CAALAS calls on the NT Government to commit to funding this crucial position to ensure access to justice for Aboriginal young people.

The Review noted that youth detention staff must receive significantly more training and professionalisation. Instead of 4 days training, youth detention staff should have nothing less than the 30 weeks training NSW youth detention staff have. NAAJA and CAALAS look forward to seeing the evidence of the NT Government entrusting the care of the Territory’s most vulnerable children to highly trained, professional youth detention staff.

The Review also raises serious questions about the health and wellbeing of children in detention. The Review found that staff have been too reliant on confining ‘troublemakers’; detainees’ basic rights were withheld for an inappropriate period of time in some instances; that there were no programs to help detainees sufficiently change their behaviour, and that there were allegations of staff mistreatment of children in detention including ‘isolated cases where staff have used inappropriate force and/or have intimidated detainees’.

NAAJA and CAALAS also call on the NT Government to honour its pre-election commitment to establish an Independent Custodial Inspector. An Independent Custodial Inspector (such as exists in Western Australia) has unfettered access to youth detention centres to ensure national and International standards are being complied with.

“If the Government thought this independent, expert position was needed prior to the election, the Review findings only underscore why this position is so urgently needed,” said Mr O’Reilly.

“The Territory Government must also 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. 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,” said Ms Collins.

 

Media contacts:

Priscilla Collins, CEO, NAAJA                     0427 045 665

Mark O’Reilly, Action CEO, CAALAS           0439 683 816