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Community safety under threat with changes to youth bail laws

The Law Society Northern Territory President Mr Tass Liveris expressed concern about the proposed changes to bail laws. “Everyone is sick and tired of what communities see as the revolving door of jail. We have been on this path for some time and the community is no safer for it. These proposed changes are another step in the wrong direction.” Mr Liveris said.

“This does not respond to community concerns because it will not fix the problem – it will only make it worse.” Mr Liveris said.

“Communities are calling for real action on this issue – everyone including the Minister knows that locking kids up does nothing to curb offending – when young people are exposed to the criminal justice system they are much more likely to become adult offenders. And we have more than enough of those.” Mr Liveris said. Mr Liveris referred to the Australian Institute of Criminology research that young people diverted from the court system were less likely to have further involvement in the criminal justice system. Mr Liveris noted the 2011 Review of Youth Justice in NT that recommended the need for more diversionary programs and increased eligibility for diversion in light of increasing rates of youth crime.

The community has also seen NT Corrections previously being criticised for poor practices in youth incarceration. “After all these reports we need to ensure that the recommendations have been implemented before we change the law and mandate that incarceration is part of the solution.” Mr Liveris said.

In the NT, youth detention costs $350,000 per year or $87,500 for three months per young person. If it really is only about 10 kids for three months that’s almost $1M. “Bail is never an easy decision. Community safety is a primary concern and but we say that the Courts are best placed to balance all the issues in each case. Its not easy to balance the costs and the risks with the evidence of what works and the limited programs available. For the legislators to put the evidence of what works to one side shows that they are lost on real solutions to the problem.” Mr Liveris said.

Mr Liveris welcomed the NT Justice Targets and the report currently being undertaken into the justice system and how the targets can be met. “The Society is concerned that this announcement has been made prior to that report being finalised. We would like to see these issues tackled in a whole of government way with real targets and real strategies.” Mr Liveris said.

Studies conducted in Australia, the USA, New Zealand and Europe show that ‘lock ‘em up, get tough’ methods such as juvenile incarceration, overly strict bail legislation, boot camps, trying juveniles in adult courts, ‘scared straight’ programs and so on, are not effective in reducing offending/reoffending.[i]

A study by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that young people diverted from the court system were less likely to have further involvement in the criminal justice system.[ii]

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