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A dark day for justice in the NT

CLANT statement on Youth Justice Amendment Bill 2019 (NT) [introduced 19 March 2019, passed 21 March 2019, taken to have commenced 24 May 2018]

It’s a dark day for justice in the NT. This Bill extends the use of force, restraint and torturous confinement, potentially to levels beyond the practices that so horrified the nation that it resulted in a Royal Commission being called.

The retrospective reforms are obviously targeted at legitimising ongoing failings and repeated abuses of powers against our most troubled children. The Bill was deliberately rushed through under ‘urgency’ provisions to avoid scrutiny by service providers and advocates of children in detention.

This government has learnt nothing from the $50m plus wasted on the Royal Commission.

Don Dale and the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centres are unsafe and unfit for purpose, yet there is no concrete plan for closure or improvement of either.

Terrifyingly, the current plan appears to return to punitive and damaging practices that promote the interests of failing infrastructure over the rehabilitative measures required to protect the interests of the community and the children moving forward.

Contrary to its supposed purpose, this Bill in no way provides clarification regarding use of force; indeed, the only clarification it offers is that force can effectively be used at all times, at the discretion of an authorised person. Restraint devices, shackles, hoods and solitary confinement are back, which can only lead to fear, trauma and pain.

We recognise that there are some positive aspects to another recent reform Bill, including limitations on holding children in custody without charge, repeal of breach of bail offences and wholesale reforms to the Bail Act as it applies to youths.

However, until the health, safety and wellbeing of children in detention can be protected, and appropriate detention centres and specialist staff members can be provided, it is hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel or real hope for rehabilitation of youth offenders in the NT.

21 March 2019