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Dark day for Territorians as misguided youth justice reforms pass Parliament

Media Release, 12 May 2021

Legal and justice experts, community leaders, medical professionals and youth advocates from around Australia have expressed the utmost disappointment with the Northern Territory government for rushing youth justice laws through the Parliament last night.

As a multipartisan alliance based on the need for evidence-based reform of our criminal justice system, the Justice Reform Initiative opposes these changes as a backwards step in policy and fundamentally at odds with the recommendations of two Royal Commissions.

Justice Reform Initiative Executive Director Mindy Sotiri said it was extremely disappointing the Gunner government had not taken the time for extensive consultation and examination of the undeniable evidence base which showed such ‘tough on crime’ measures were more likely to increase reoffending rates.

“Genuinely improving community safety requires an evidence-based approach to youth justice policy,” Dr Sotiri said. “The evidence is clear that the experience of incarceration, even for very short periods (including on remand) increases the likelihood of further offending.

“These reforms will see more young people refused bail, denied access to diversion, subjected to electronic monitoring, and remanded in NT youth detention centres – disconnecting them from education, family, community, culture and other key anchors that allow children to thrive and engage positively with the world around them.

“We acknowledge that the Northern Territory government believes it is responding to the will of the community. But policy should not be adopted simply because it is believed to be popular – it must be based in evidence and consultation.

“We ask that the government listens to experts and ensure a strong and transparent reporting mechanism is in place to monitor the impact of the changes. Territorians must know what effect these reforms have on the number of children in custody and the options for diversionary responses.

Northern Territory patrons of the Justice Reform Initiative include:

  • Pat Anderson AO, Human rights advocate and Chairperson of the Lowitja Institute
  • Richard Coates, former Magistrate, Legal Aid Director, Director of Public Prosecutions and CEO Justice Department of the NT
  • Ted Egan AO, singer songwriter and former Administrator of the Northern Territory
  • Suzan Cox OAM QC, Director Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission
  • Most Reverend Charles Gauci, Bishop of Darwin
  • Olga Havnen, Chief Executive Officer, Danila Dilba Health Service in Darwin and former Executive Officer of the National Indigenous Working Group.
  • Professor Steve Larkin, Chief Executive Officer, Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education
  • The Hon Tom Pauling AO QC, former magistrate, Solicitor-General and NT Administrator

The group also includes patrons-in-chief former High Court Justice and Governor-General Sir William Deane, and former Governor-General Dame Quentin Bryce, as well as other prominent national patrons such as former Australian of the Year Professor Fiona Stanley.

“Incarceration is more expensive than diversionary programs and also increases long-term costs by making reoffending more likely,” Dr Sotiri said.  

“Territorians know that these reforms fly in the face of the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody as well as the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of children in the NT.

“That most recent Royal Commission laid a clear path for the Northern Territory’s youth justice system, based on individualised diversion plans, specialist case managers, availability of wraparound services for the young person and the inclusion of a conference with a victim or family.

“We can’t and shouldn’t turn our back on that monumental piece of work. The world is watching.

“We call on the government to establish a strong reporting mechanism and monitor the immediate impacts of these reforms, with an open mind to withdrawing them based on the evidence.”

The Initiative respectfully acknowledges and supports the current and longstanding efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to reduce the numbers of Indigenous people incarcerated in Australia and, importantly, the leadership role which Indigenous-led organisations such as Change the Record continue to play on this issue. We also acknowledge the work of many other individuals and organisations seeking change, such as those focused on the rate of imprisonment for women, people with mental health issues, people with disability and others.

Media contact: Pia Akerman 0412 346 746




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