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Territory Families loses its nerve on Royal Commission recommendations

More children in the Northern Territory will be driven into the criminal justice system if recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory are ignored and watered down, the Law Society Northern Territory (the Society) has warned.

At a public hearing of the Social Policy Scrutiny Committee yesterday, CEO of Territory Families, Ken Davies, gave evidence that Territory Families supports further backtracking on significant Royal Commission recommendations. Mr Davies said that the changes originated from his agency, and not from government, although he had briefed Minister Wakefield about them.

The Society’s President, Maria Savvas, said “The Society welcomes the important measures in the Bill that implement the Royal Commission ‘roadmap’, but Territory Families’ last minute proposed changes to the Bill will see more children behind bars instead of in classrooms where they belong. By removing the provision of arrest as a last resort, and broadening the circumstances on which bail can be refused, Territory Families is widening the net of children who will be caught up in the justice system, forcing more children into detention centres and away from their families and communities.”

The flagged changes come hard on the heels of regressive amendments rammed through the parliament in March, which the Society warned were likely to lead to the very abuses that the Royal Commission was set up to investigate.

The government has also walked away from its commitment to quickly replace outdated and dangerous youth detention centres in Darwin and Alice Springs.

“This threatened backflip on the government's commitment to keeping our children and communities safer will result in more children, some as young as 10 years old, detained in the notorious Don Dale and Alice Springs Youth Detention Centres, facilities which were condemned more than two years ago as dangerous for children, and for our community”, Ms Savvas said.

The Royal Commission, handed down its findings 18 months ago. At the time the Northern Territory Government accepted the intent and direction of all 227 recommendations made by the Commission, but since then has walked back from implementing some of the key measures that were proposed. Ms Savvas said, “These recommendations were intended to ensure that children caught up in the justice system are accorded rights and dignity, and to enable the development of alternative pathways such as restorative justice and justice reinvestment to safely support children’s reintegration into our community.”

Ms Savvas reiterated the Society’s repeated calls for the government to honour its commitment to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

“To date, they have failed to build new facilities to house and rehabilitate children, failed to raise the age of criminal responsibility, and now they are failing to ensure that children are adequately protected from being unnecessarily arrested and detained,” she said “These proposed amendments will result in more children being locked up for longer periods of time.”

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