The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory (NTRC) found shocking and systemic failures occurred over many years and were known and ignored at the highest levels. It calls for the shutting down of Don Dale and a major overhaul and rethink of youth justice, child protection & detention.
Many might assume the disturbing practices revealed are limited to the NT, however, similar behaviours and practices have been documented in all youth detention facilities throughout Australia including Victoria.
In Victoria, staff working in youth detention facilities have 3 weeks of training & do not need to have any experience with youth. This year it was revealed that Victorian youth in detention have regularly been locked down and isolated as a form of discipline and when there are staff shortages. Education was only introduced relatively recently in Victoria & not to all detainees.
Briefings on the new Cherry Creek facility have repeatedly emphasised security and control. As yet, we in the youth sector are unconvinced much will change in terms of staff training or assessments on entering custody. At odds with the Royal Commission’s recommendations, the facility will be very large and it will not be close to the homes and communities of young people being detained.
Some of the key recommendations of the Royal Commission’s final report are:
- Raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12
- No detention for a child under 14 except in exceptional circumstances
- Put into practice detention as a last resort and greater use of diversion into the community
- Comprehensive professional medical and psychological assessment on being taken into custody
- Young people to be detained in facilities that are close to home, small and therapeutic in focus
- All young people in detention have access to ongoing education in custody and post-detention
- Youth justice officers to have demonstrated experience in working with young people and to be provided with adequate relevant training
- Family contact to be prioritised and facilitated
- Prohibiting extendable periods in isolation over 24 hours, or its use as a punishment
- Banning the use of tear gas and force or restraint being used to discipline those in detention
- Much greater accountability of officers including body-worn video cameras.