Mistreatment of detained youth a national crisis

Today, the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress declared its outrage over the mistreatment of young people in the NT youth detention system, calling for necessary reforms to address the crisis.

“The NT government has led a concerted and sustained campaign to demonise young people without attempting to properly understand the social determinants causing the problems these young people face, including the young people featured in the Four Corners program on ABC last night,” said Congress CEO, Donna Ah Chee.

Specialised youth health services, such as headspace, have for many years trained health professionals working with young people to learn to ask the question, ‘what’s happened to you’ rather than the judgemental question, ‘what’s wrong with you’. This approach leads to compassion, empathy and a productive relationship focused on treatment and support rather than judgement, blame and a hostile, non-productive relationship focused on punishment.

“It seems the NTG requires similar training as it chooses to continually blame very young people for their problems rather than to understand and work to change the circumstances that have caused the problems in the first place,” said Ms Ah Chee.

“The issues covered in the Four Corners program have been documented by the NT Children’s Commissioners previously and are well known to government including the Chief Minister, NT Police and Correctional Services.

“The NTG continues to pass draconian laws targeting Aboriginal people and which are inconsistent with the recommendations made by the NT Children’s Commissioner’s report on Don Dale.

“Just recently, Congress was part of a campaign to stop proposed draconian changes to the Bail Act (NT) that would have otherwise enabled young people to be detained in jail prior to presenting at court. This was only just averted.

Ms Ah Chee confirmed that Congress supports the demands formed by key peak Aboriginal organisations including the following:

  1. The Commonwealth Government should immediately sack the NTG and call a new election as it is collectively, directly responsible for the punitive, barbaric treatment of young people.
  2. Solitary confinement and use of physical restraints on young people should be immediately suspended.
  3. An alternate provider of youth correctional services should be appointed.  The NT Department of Corrections cannot continue to deliver these services – kids are ‘at risk’. This could perhaps be done through the immediate transfer of responsibility into a new Youth Justice section within the NT DoH where the focus is on treatment and support rather than punishment.
  4. Office of the NT Children’s Commissioner must be appropriately and adequately resourced to perform her statutory responsibilities. Congress believes that a new Aboriginal Children’s Commissioner position is also required, as key to strengthening the office in the NT. Such positions already exist in Victoria and Queensland.
  5. All children from Central Australia should be returned immediately and no further children should be transferred from Central Australia to Darwin.
  6. Therapeutic support services should be provided to families and children impacted by these events.
  7. The terms of reference of the Royal Commission need to be broad enough to include prevention and not only how to better care for young people in detention.  NT Aboriginal representation on the Royal Commission should also be included in the ToR.
  8. There needs to be a review into each case of all young people currently in detention in the NT, to ascertain whether these young people have been detained unnecessarily. 


Media Contact: Emily MacKenzie, 0408 741 691 or communications@caac.org.au.

Featured image source: Melinda Hooper