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Government must commit to reforming broken youth justice system

The Law Society Northern Territory (the Society) has expressed disappointment and concern at recent events at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. Society President Maria Savvas said, “Six months ago we were heartened by the Northern Territory’s positive response to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. We welcomed Michael Gunner’s announcement that his government had accepted the intent and direction of all 227 recommendations, and his commitment to reform our broken youth justice system. However, recent incidents in our youth detention centres, culminating in the serious disturbances at Don Dale this week, have badly shaken our confidence in the government’s capacity to make the changes required.

Ms Savvas said, “Royal Commissioners White and Gooda paid a return visit to Darwin last week, and expressed dismay at the lack of progress, and in particular, the failure to replace Don Dale with a detention facility fit for the purpose of housing, treating and reintegrating child offenders. The events of the past few days have graphically illustrated the grave consequences of that failure. The Society does not seek to excuse criminal offences, even when committed by children, but it is clear to our members who work at the youth justice coalface that the recent incidents are an all but inevitable outcome of confining these children, most of whom are on remand and presumed innocent, in deplorable conditions little better than those which led to the Royal Commission being called in the first place.

“It is unacceptable and arguably unlawful to detain children for lengthy periods in overcrowded cells without access to sunlight, exercise, and meaningful education or other structured activity”, said Ms Savvas. “It is not too late for the Gunner government to get the reform process back on the rails, but to do so requires political will and the courage to stick to the principles and program laid out for us by the Royal Commission. It is imperative that the government redouble its efforts to get and keep children out of detention.”

Maria Savvas


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