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NT youth detention settlement an urgent warning that justice reform is needed

A landmark $35 million settlement between the Northern Territory Government and children who
were mistreated in its youth detention system is a warning that youth justice reform is urgently
needed, says Jesuit Social Services.

“Five years ago, the entire nation was horrified by the footage of children being abused, neglected
and mistreated in the Northern Territory’s youth detention system, by the same people who are
meant to be supporting their rehabilitation and preparing them for their return to the community,”
says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

“This significant settlement is an acknowledgement of how much the system failed these vulnerable
children. Sadly, it will not take away their suffering, but it can serve as an urgent wake up call that
the youth justice system needs urgent reform. We need to ensure this can never happen again and
that children who get into trouble are given the best chance to turn their lives around.”

The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory,
announced five years ago today, produced 227 evidence-based recommendations and provided a
blueprint for how the Northern Territory could lead the nation in implementing humane, effective
approaches to support children and young people.

While all recommendations were supported by the Northern Territory Government, key
recommendations including raising the age of criminal responsibility have not been implemented.
Recently, the Northern Territory Government introduced regressive legislation that has already
resulted in more children being locked up and the government has announced it is going to expand
the Don Dale facility, despite the Royal Commission recommending its closure.

“We, and others who work with children in the Northern Territory every day, are deeply concerned
by changes to the Bail Act that came into effect in May which have already condemned more
children to detention when they should be supported in the community instead.

“Three decades ago we had a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and five years ago
we had a Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.
How many more Royal Commissions do we need before political leaders finally heed the advice of
Elders, experts and people with lived experience and commit to reform that supports, not further
harms, vulnerable children?”.

Jesuit Social Services and the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) today held the 5th
National Justice Symposium in Alice Springs and online to discuss what successful youth justice
reform looks like from grassroots to the system level. The event brought together Elders, experts
from across Australia, New Zealand and the US, practitioners and the voices and lived experiences of
young people who have had contact with the youth justice system.

“The Northern Territory, through the recommendations of the Royal Commission, has a roadmap to
a system that can lead Australia and authorise other parts of the country to follow. Today’s shameful
news must be a catalyst for positive change.”

Media enquiries: Kathryn Kernohan, 0409 901 248 or kathryn.kernohan@jss.org.au.

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