NFP Coalition Calls For National Action on Youth Justice
20 November 2017 at 4:03 pm
Nearly 100 organisations across Australia have released an open statement to political leaders calling for national action to reform the nation’s youth justice systems, in wake of the findings from the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.
The Royal Commission found “shocking and systemic failures occurred over many years” in youth detention centres, and the commission concluded that these centres were “not fit for accommodating, let alone rehabilitating, children and young people”.
It recommended a range of reforms, including the immediate closure of Darwin’s Don Dale youth detention centre, the creation of a new children’s court, and the implementation of an early intervention family support program.
On Monday, Change the Record – a coalition of leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, human rights, legal and community organisations – released an open statement to the prime minister, premiers and chief ministers calling for “immediate measures to reform our youth justice systems and address the recommendations of the Royal Commission”.
Organisations supporting the statement include ACOSS, the Human Rights Law Centre, Oxfam Australia and UNICEF Australia.
“We are horrified by the abuses and torture of children in detention in the Northern Territory, highlighted throughout the Royal Commission,” the statement said.
“In addition to removing children from their families and communities, children are being subjected to prolonged abuse including isolation, restraint chairs, spit hoods and tear gas in youth prisons. This is unacceptable.”
“All Australian governments must take immediate measures to reform our youth justice systems and address the recommendations of the Royal Commission. These must be developed collaboratively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities to ensure that all of Australia’s children thrive.”
Change the Record called on political leaders to work together through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to lead national reform of youth justice systems, laws, policies and practices, with the aim of developing national minimum benchmarks.
They also said “independent oversight and monitoring” was necessary to ensure the commission’s recommendations were implemented.
Cheryl Axleby, the co-chair of Change the Record, told Pro Bono News the youth justice issues were known to governments well before the commission findings.
“The treatment of children in Don Dale and other youth prisons is horrifying. But governments have actually known about these issues for some time,” Axleby said.
“The Royal Commission’s report puts these issues on the national agenda. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner must now commit to change for the children who most urgently need a fair chance and opportunities to thrive, outside of the criminal justice system.
“That is why more than 100 organisations from right across the country have joined with us to demand national leadership and action. The time for action is now.”
Change the Record noted that this abuse was not isolated to the Northern Territory but was a broader issue that needed to be addressed nationally.
“The prime minister has already acknowledged that the royal commission’s recommendations have implications for other jurisdictions,” Axleby said.
Antoinette Braybrook, the other co-chair of Change the Record added: “Our organisations working across the country know that these issues are not just isolated to the Northern Territory. They are happening in child protection systems and youth prisons right across the country.
“Unfortunately, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are overwhelmingly impacted by these issues.”
Axleby said the Royal Commission findings could provide a turning point for governments to finally address the issues affecting the youth justice system and get things heading in the right direction.
“With the release of the royal commission’s report this week, the federal government has an historic opportunity to show national leadership to address this crisis and demonstrate that the safety of all children is a national priority,” she said.
“Change the Record is calling for national justice targets backed up by investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled solutions.”