NT Juvenile Detention ‘Punitive Not Rehabilitative’ – Royal Commission
1 April 2017 at 11:37 am
An interim royal commission report into youth detention in the Northern Territory says the current system is likely to leave its young inmates more damaged than when they entered.
The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory Interim Report was released Friday.
Commissioners Margaret White AO and Mick Gooda said in the report: “The evidence presented to the commission so far reveals a youth detention system that is likely to leave many children and young people more damaged than when they entered.
“We have heard that the detention facilities are not fit for accommodating children and young people, and not fit for the purpose of rehabilitation. They are also unsuitable workplaces for youth justice of officers and other staff.
“They are harsh, bleak and not in keeping with modern standards. They are punitive, not rehabilitative.”
The report said the commission was continuing to take evidence on a range of practices within the detention centres, including the use of restraints, isolation and force, as well as the general treatment of detainees by detention centre staff.
“The evidence heard so far, however, raises serious concerns about inappropriate and unlawful practices, unacceptable standards of conduct and inappropriate methods of dealing with detainees within the youth detention centres,” the report said.
It also said that problems in the detention centres had been recognised within government before the broadcast of the ABC Four Corners program on the Don Dale detention centre that led to the establishment of the commission.
“The evidence before the commission clearly establishes that there is a significant over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in both child protection and youth detention. This fact must influence the commission’s response to many of the issues under consideration,” the report said.
Not for profit child rights agency Save the Children Australia welcomed the interim report.
Chief executive Paul Ronalds said: “The initial findings of this landmark inquiry outlines the true extent of the problems in the Northern Territory youth justice system and shows the urgent need for reform. This must be a high priority for government.
“Shocking accounts of abuse at Don Dale led the inquiry to find that the youth detention system is likely to leave young people more damaged than when they entered. Evidence showed the conditions are punitive, not rehabilitative.
“Save the Children welcomes the commission’s statement that the well-being of the community is best achieved by a comprehensive approach to youth justice based on crime prevention, early intervention with children and young people at risk of offending, court diversion programs and community engagement.”
Ronalds said the harmful treatment of children in youth detention was not quarantined to the Northern Territory.
“Many parts of Australia are taking hardline, punitive approaches to youth justice, such as in Victoria. Not only do these put vulnerable children at risk of harm, they fail to make communities safer. Evidence shows that locking up children can increase the likelihood of them reoffending and getting trapped in a cycle of crime.”
The full report of the royal commission is expected in August 2017.