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Unprecedented alliance pleads with NT Government to reconsider recycling failed approaches to youth crime

Media Release, 5 May 2021

Some of the Northern Territory and Australia’s most experienced justice and legal experts have come together to call on the NT Government and Opposition to urgently rethink the proposed youth justice reforms with concern they could be rushed through the Parliament.

The Alliance has written an open letter to the Chief Minister and Opposition Leader saying the policies are misguided and will only increase the level of incarceration and crime: “the experience of incarceration, even for very short periods including on remand increases the likelihood of further offending,” the letter says.

The Alliance known as the Justice Reform Initiative includes:

  • 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.

“We are writing to express our urgent concern about the proposed youth justice reforms that will see more young people refused bail, denied access to diversion, subjected to electronic monitoring, and remanded in NT youth detention centres,” the letter opens.

“We understand these amendments are going to be introduced ‘on urgency’ in the Parliamentary sittings today, with no opportunity for consultation.

“While we share the concerns held by the community and the parliament about youth crime in particular pars of the Northern Territory, we also know that genuinely improving community safety requires an evidence-based approach to youth justice policy.”

The letter also cites examples of successful alternatives such as the diversionary program in the Northern Territory which in 2019/20, was successful with only 30% of the children and young people who completed a program reoffending in the following six months, compared with 70% returning to jail after being incarcerated.

Incarceration is more expensive than diversionary programs and also increases long-term costs by making reoffending more likely.

Justice Reform Initiative patron Olga Havnen said the evidence is clear that the experience of incarceration, even for very short periods (including on remand) increases the likelihood of further offending.

“It is absolutely imperative the Parliament pauses to stop and think – consult with the community and experts about the right approach. A failure to do so would be reckless and have catastrophic consequences,” Ms Havnen said.

“We know that the more people interact with the youth justice system, the greater the likelihood is that they will return, and the more likely that through this process, they will become disconnected from education, family, community, culture and other key anchors to their community.

“All these reforms will do is result in more reoffending, more crime and more wrecked lives.

“Frankly these reforms fly in the face all of the evidence about what works including the findings of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of children in the NT.

“That advice emphasised the importance of timely referrals, 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.

“It specifically said that placing automatic restrictions on their capacity to re-engage in further diversion programs would limit the value of the program.

“The NT Government’s proposed changes are totally inconsistent with this clear guidance. We need less knee-jerk reactions motivated by political expediency and more evidence-based reform to our justice system.”

Former Australian of the Year and patron Professor Fiona Stanley said she was frightened by the proposed changes.

“This is regressive legislation that will lead to more crime, more reoffending, more broken lives and will trap people in a cycle of incarceration for the rest of their lives,” she said.

“The evidence is clear that we need to keep young people out of detention and fund culturally strong diversionary programs.”


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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