The Northern Territory government’s decision to build the new Don Dale detention centre next to an adult prison sends the message it is a “rite of passage” for young inmates, lawyers say.
Both the Law Society Northern Territory and Law Council of Australia have slammed this week’s announcement, which contradicts a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into the Detention and Protection of Children in the Northern Territory.
Law Society President, Maria Savvas, said she was frustrated and disappointed at the decision, which again illustrated the Territory government’s disregard for the Royal Commission findings.
“The final report clearly states ‘the new facilities should not be located on, or in close proximity to, adult prison precincts’, yet here we are,” Ms Savvas said.
“This sends the wrong message to young people and the community. It says to young people in detention ‘this is your stepping-stone to the big house’.
“The community is not properly informed of the reality – that only a very small number of young people are in detention. Often, they come from complex backgrounds, ingrained disadvantage and trauma, and have underlying health problems.
“It’s obvious current strategies aren’t working. Investing in rehabilitation that empowers and educates – not institutionalisation that criminalises and marginalises – must be the way forward.”
Speaking at the National Indigenous Legal Conference (NILC) in Darwin yesterday, Law Council President, Arthur Moses SC, said he was “dismayed” at the decision, which “flouts the recommendation of the Royal Commission”.
“This decision is a travesty for our children in the Northern Territory,” Mr Moses SC said.
“It will send the message to our children who are the subject of detention, that the adult prison is your rite of passage in this life.
“Those involved or entrusted with law reform, policy and decision making in relation to youth justice should not be repeating the mistakes of the past.
“The consistent failure of the NT government to implement the Royal Commission’s recommendations, despite promising to adopt them all, is an affront to the entire process and an insult to those involved.”
Indigenous barrister and chair of the Law Council’s Indigenous Legal Issues Committee, Tony McAvoy SC, spoke in favour of a resolution, which received the unanimous support of more than 330 delegates at the NILC condemning the Territory government’s decision.