Don Dale – still there, still harming children despite Commission

This week a settlement of $35 million was reached by the NT government for a class action covering 1200 young people who had been in Don Dale Youth Detention Centre (now part of Berrima jail).

By the time costs are deducted that money won’t go far and certainly won’t make up for the damage the abuse of them has caused.

Five years on from the Royal Commission into protection and detention of children in the NT, Don Dale has expanded and the number of young people in detention has doubled in just the last year. 

Back in May, the Labor NT Government actually fast-tracked laws making it harder for young people to get bail. Re-offenders are automatically refused bail and whether or not a young person gets access to a diversion program is up to the police, not the judiciary. 

The majority of young people in detention in the NT are on remand and the overwhelming majority of children in youth detention in the NT are Indigenous.

The government and the opposition compete for being toughest on crime. It’s completely at odds with the evidence of what works. The Acting NT Children’s Commissioner, Sally Sievers was scathing, warning this would have a disproportionate impact on Aboriginal children and young people, saying: 

Resorting to this regressive and expensive policy direction has the potential to doom future generations of Territory children to a life within the justice system,” 

Few of the Commission’s recommendations have been implemented. The NT is still in breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and international human rights obligations and it refuses to lift the age of criminality to 14. All Australian states have set the age of criminality at 10 and police have the power to arrest, strip-search, and imprison children this age – children still in primary school.

Indigenous children are locked up at 18 times the rate of non-indigenous children.

In December 2019 the Council of Attorneys-General set up a review to consider lifting the age of responsibility. The 90 submissions to this review have been buried and there is still no report of any action.

It’s disgraceful.

Photo ABC news. Felicity James

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