The Northern Territory government will spend millions of dollars turning Don Dale Youth Detention Centre back into a functioning youth justice centre to prepare for more child inmates.
The NT Government has awarded a $2.5 million contract to a local contractor with “fix and make safe” works to being immediate, to finish in about three months.
The infrastructure follows new laws which make it harder for children to get bail.
Territory Families Minister Kate Worden told the ABC that they need to be ‘ahead of the game’ and prepare for more children to be sent to prison.
“We have to get ahead of the game and that’s what this is about — if we do see that rise in numbers, then we make sure that we’ve got adequate beds and that they’re safe,” she said.
Principal Solicitor Peter O’Brien is disappointed in the announcement.
“The re-opening of the centre completely undermines the years of work put in to uncover the national shame behind the Northern Territory’s youth detention centres,” Mr O’Brien stated.
A national shame continues
The number of children in detention across the Northern Territory has almost doubled in the past year. In Darwin, the number has risen each week since the new bail laws were enacted.
Principal Solicitor Peter O’Brien worked in the Northern Territory as a criminal defence solicitor for a number of years.
“Crime is a function of disadvantage and societal dysfunction, laws don’t change that,” Mr O’Brien stated.
“Since the Royal Commission, which explored the horrendous circumstances of children in detention, the situation for children in the Northern Territory criminal justice system has only deteriorated,” Mr O’Brien stated.
Detainees more likely to be Indigenous
In June 2018, the juvenile detainee population in the Northern Territory was 100% Aboriginal. According to the AIHW (2017), juvenile Indigenous Australian offenders aged between 10-17 years are 24 times more likely to be in youth detention than non-Indigenous offenders of the same age.
Acting NT Children’s Commissioner Sally Sievers has criticised the new works at Don Dale, describing the ongoing treatment of children in detention has a “national shame”.
“Whilst they can remove hanging points and paint walls, the spaces that are being prepared fall well short of providing an environment where there can be an expectation that children return rehabilitated to the community,” she said.
“Evidence shows that place-based, child and family solutions will achieve far more positive results for our children and communities. It is in these programs that the $5 million should be spent.”
Don Dale Detention Centre was recommended for closure, by the Royal Commission into Youth Detention in the Northern Territory. The Royal Commission was established in response to a Four Corners investigation involving the treatment of inmate Dylan Voller by corrections officers.