Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 12 October 2022
The Justice Reform Initiative warmly welcomes the announcement by the Northern Territory Government today that it will repeal mandatory sentencing for certain offences and take steps to increase the age of criminal responsibility.
The Initiative – an alliance which includes former premiers and ministers from all sides of politics, as well as some of the country’s most preeminent judicial figures, former prosecutors, experts and Aboriginal leaders – believes this is a significant step towards reshaping the Territory’s criminal justice system to one built on the evidence of what works to build safer communities and to reduce the expensive overreliance on prisons.
Justice Reform Initiative Executive Director Dr Mindy Sotiri said the NT Government was to be commended for adopting a more evidence based approach to reducing crime and ending cycles of incarceration.
“This is an important step for the Northern Territory,” Dr Sotiri said. “We commend the Government for taking these first critical steps towards a criminal justice system that will help make the Territory a safer place to live with an approach based on what works to reduce crime.
“The evidence is clear - mandatory sentencing does not prevent crime. It is hugely expensive, it leads to unjust sentencing and has the biggest impact on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our community, especially Aboriginal people.
“Raising the age of criminal responsibility is similarly an important step. Australia is well behind the rest of the world in incarcerating children as young as 10. There is overwhelming evidence that 14 is the minimum age, developmentally and neurologically, that children could or should be held criminally responsible.
“We will continue to advocate for 14 to be the minimum age but commend the Government for showing willingness to shift its position and move to 12 years old as a starting point for this important reform.”
The reforms follow a report recently released by the Justice Reform Initiative which showed imprisonment rates in the Northern Territory are one of the highest in the world and more than four times the Australian average. Almost one percent of the adult population in the Northern Territory is in prison at any point in time, and the proportion of children in prison is almost five times the national rate.
“Territorians know that the old ‘tough on crime’ approach has not worked,” Dr Sotiri said. “The number of people in the NT’s prisons has grown by more than 30% over the past decade, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people significantly overrepresented.
“This overreliance on incarceration is a horrendously expensive approach to criminal justice which entrenches existing disadvantage and increases the likelihood of ongoing criminal justice system involvement, often over generations.
“It’s time to reset our policy approach to be smart on crime, investing in the community-led services and programs which are proven to deliver better outcomes for community safety.
“First Nations organisations and communities of the Northern Territory have provided leadership and advocacy in this space for decades, as well as clearly stating what is needed to prevent this over-representation continuing. Today’s announcement recognises this work which has outlined so clearly the failure of the existing justice system.
“This is an important moment for all Territorians who want to see the Northern Territory shine as a safe, strong and vibrant community.”
The Justice Reform Initiative is a multi-partisan alliance supported by more than 120 of our most eminent Australians, including two former Governors-General, former Members of Parliament from all sides of politics, academics, respected Aboriginal leaders, senior former judges, including High Court judges, and others who have added their voices to end Australia’s dangerously high reliance on jails.
Our NT patrons 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
- Suzan Cox OAM KC, former Director NT Legal Aid Commission
- Most Reverend Charles Gauci, Bishop of Darwin
- Olga Havnen, former Chief Executive Officer, Danila Dilba Health Service in Darwin and former Executive Officer of the National Indigenous Working Group.
- The Hon Clare Martin AO, former Chief Minister
- The Hon Tom Pauling AO KC, former magistrate, Solicitor-General and NT Administrator
- Karen Sheldon AM, business Entrepreneur, President NT Chamber of Commerce
- Sally Sievers, NT Anti-Discrimination Commissioner & former acting NT Children's Commissioner
Media contact: Pia Akerman 0412 346 746
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 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.