Lorena Allam, The Guardian, June 26, 2018
The Northern Territory’s biggest Aboriginal legal service is pleading with the government to “show courage” to try alternatives to juvenile incarceration after the recent revelation that every child in the territory’s detention facilities is Indigenous.
The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency says the situation is “an absolute tragedy” and has called for greater investment in community solutions instead of “building bigger and bigger prisons”.
The NT families department told a parliamentary committee last week that “as of today, 100% of the children in detention are Aboriginal. The proportions have not changed since the royal commission.”
There are 17 young people in Don Dale youth detention centre and 21 in Alice Springs.
The agency’s principal legal officer, David Woodroffe, said: “We know that the numbers of children who come into detention from communities are very small, in some cases only one or two children.
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“That’s not a crime wave, that’s individually troubled young people.
“And how you deal with your troubled young neighbour is the community works together to help them, whether that’s going to an outstation, or working with an uncle or aunty, working on a cattle station, working with fisheries or rangers, finding pathways to training. They’re the real remedies.
“Why haven’t we learned from the past, why haven’t we learned from the Don Dale royal commission, and previous royal commissions dating back 30 years for the solutions?”
Nationally, 53% of all young people in detention in 2017 were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and Indigenous young people aged 10 to 17 were 24 times as likely as non-Indigenous young people to be in detention.
“We know the solutions are basic, simple and long-term, but they are investing in families, investing in communities to keep kids in school, keep kids healthy, keep kids with family,” Woodroffe said.
“Tackling issues around family violence, drug and alcohol violence, supporting those families to look after their children.
“One of the key things that we need from politicians, public servants and people in authority is having … the courage to do things that are different and not simply maintain the status quo.”
The NT families minister, Dale Wakefield, said the government has invested “historic levels of funding” in reforming the child protection and youth justice systems.
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“Aboriginal children have long been over-represented in our child protection and youth justice systems,” she said.
“The solutions require coordinated action across government.
“We are also collaborating and partnering with Aboriginal-controlled organisations and communities to find solutions.”
The NT government has allocated $71.4m to rebuild Don Dale and Alice Springs youth detention centres, and $32.8m over four years to “divert young people from crime and stop future offending” and “improve youth detention operations and reduce recidivism”.
But Woodroffe said there needed to be equal investment in alternatives to detention.
“Aboriginal sports and recreation officers, Aboriginal teachers’ assistants, Aboriginal health workers, night patrols, care and protection workers: these are justice issues, and they are crime prevention remedies,” he said.
“Money needs to be invested to make detention centres safe. We know from the Don Dale royal commission that they are not safe, healthy, therapeutic places, but we can’t be building bigger and bigger prisons.”
The Greens family and community services spokeswoman, Rachel Siewert, said the statistic was heartbreaking and “shows a completely broken justice system that is still not addressing systemic racism it has purveyed for so long”.