11th May

Youth justice crackdown is a cost the community can’t afford

Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (Congress) condemns the Northern Territory Government for introducing youth justice legislation that will see more young people refused bail, denied access to diversionary programs, subjected to electronic monitoring, and remanded in youth detention centres. 

Congress CEO Donna Ah Chee said today: “This legislation will inevitably increase the number of Territorians in youth detention. Most of these young people are Aboriginal. Many come from traumatised backgrounds, and may have severe mental health / social and emotional wellbeing issues.” 

“Under these circumstances, the punitive approach being proposed by the Government will increase the rates of youth incarceration, harming Aboriginal young people in particular and do nothing to protect the community. In fact it will make rates of re-offending worse.” 

Punitive approaches to detention are well-established to be ineffective. NT Government figures show that 77% of young people released from detention return within 12 months (*1). 

Putting people in detention is also expensive with youth justice beds costing over $200,000 per year in Australia(*2). 

Ms Ah Chee stated that “The Government’s expensive, discriminatory and ineffective laws will worsen the ‘revolving door’ of offending.” 

“We share the concerns held by the community about youth crime in some parts of the Northern Territory. However, genuinely improving community safety requires an evidence-based approach,” she said. 

“Diversionary programs are effective for the majority of young people and show lower rates of reoffending”. 

“However, we recognise that there are a small number of young people with serious behavioural issues who are unable to engage with diversionary programs. These people may need to be detained for their own wellbeing and the safety of the community. However, this should be in secure rehabilitation centres focused on therapeutic approaches staffed by a multidisciplinary team of health professionals – not in a prison staffed by guards.” 

“Congress has been advocating for many years for a secure care rehabilitation model. This has been used overseas with great success: the Diagrama model in Spain, for example, uses a genuinely rehabilitative model to detention with re-offending rates as low as 14% (*3) less than a fifth of what we see in the Northern Territory”, Ms Ah Chee said. 

Ms Ah Chee concluded by calling on the Northern Territory Labor Government to reconsider this poorly thought through legislation. 

“I would like to remind the Government of their former strong support for reducing the rates at which are young people are locked up,” she said. 

“The Gunner government supported all of the recommendations relating to youth justice from the Royal Commission into the Detention and Protection of Children and needs to stay the course. Only two years ago, the Gunner Government was talking about measures that put young people on a pathway to be better citizens, not criminals (*4). What we saw back then were some genuine attempts to stop young people from reoffending, using evidence-based approaches. 

“I would urge them to abandon this expensive, discriminatory and ineffective approach, and to enter into a genuine partnership with service providers to keep our communities safe while looking after our troubled and most vulnerable young people”. 

Contact to arrange interviews: 

Dr John Boffa 

Central Australian Aboriginal Congress 

Chief Medical Officer Public Health 

M: 0418 812 141 E: john.boffa@caac.org.au 

*1 Fancourt N and Havnen O 2021. The NT’s tough-on-crime approach won’t reduce youth offending. This is what we know works. The Conversation 11 May 2021. https://theconversation.com/th... 

*2 Jones C and Guthrie J 2016. Efficacy, accessibility and adequacy of prison rehabilitation programs for Indigenous offenders across Australia. Melbourne, The Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration 

*3 Diagrama Foundation 2019. A Blueprint for Change: Adapting the lessons of the Spanish Youth Justice System to the Northern Territory. https://ddhs.org.au/sites/defa... 

*4 Michael Gunner, Facebook post, 3 October 2019