The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS) - has condemned the Northern Territory’s newest youth bail laws, after seeing a significant spike in youths in detention in a month.
Since the laws came into effect on May 14 there have been 44 youths arrested in 43 days - most of these are Indigenous.
Data from the Territory government shows a projected increase of children in custody at a rate of 10% per annum.
Chairperson of NATSILS, Arrernte woman Pricilla Atkins said the new laws were a failure.
“These punitive laws are capturing young first-time offenders who are ending up on remand when they would not ordinarily enter into the youth detention system,” she said,
“It is tragic to see the same failures of a broken system that the Royal Commission sought to reform.
“It is time for evidence-based and community-led solutions to create pathways away from jail to support young people to succeed.”
At an NT Senate Estimates hearing this week, Territory Families Minister Kate Worden praised the results after being questioned extensively on the rise of youth in detention.
Ms Worden has said the laws could take anywhere up to 18 months to reduce youth crime rates.
She highlighted the work undertaken since the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, saying the government has taken “a very broken system" and turned it around to "put in all the necessary multi-layers.”
Almost half of all crimes committed by youths in the Northern Territory are perpetrated by a small group of repeat offenders.
In 2020, 741 individual youths committed 6,399 offences. Of these, a group of 116 youths were responsible for half of them.
In a statement to NITV News, Minister for Police Nicole Manison said the behaviour of juvenile offenders in the Territory was unacceptable and the government would continue to act tough on crime.
“More police resources than ever before, more consequences for offenders, and more investment in youth to stop them turning to crime in the first place," she said.
“Repeat offenders that are currently facing more consequences under these reforms.
“There will be a review in 18 months however agencies are already regularly reporting to their ministers on how the reforms are tracking.”
Principal Legal Officer at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), David Woodroffe told NITV News that it was alarming that the government recently awarded a $2.5 million grant to expand the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, which goes against a recommendation from the Royal Commission.
“That money can go to so many good things that happen in the communities [such as] community programs, Aboriginal sport and rec, programs that can help work with families and supporting families," he said.
“It’s all the wrong lessons’ when you put more and more money into building bigger and larger prisons... you’ll fill them,” said Mr Woodroffe.
“These are bad laws, and they’re not just becoming bad laws, they’re having bad consequences..particularly for Aboriginal children.”
NATSILS and NAAJA are calling for the N.T government to work with Aboriginal organisations to prevent youth offending and address the underlying issues driving children and youth contact with criminal justice.