A lawyer from Alice Springs has told the Northern Territory Royal Commission children are being given unmanageable bail conditions, which set them up for a life behind bars.
Russell Goldflam, the principal lawyer for NT Legal Aid, noted there’s a lack of bail supported accommodation in the Northern Territory, and said current conditions aren’t practical.
“We’ve got this pattern of children being given bail on conditions which are really unlikely to be successfully complied with and, sure enough, after a few breaches the judge says well I’ve got no choice now, we have run out of options,” Mr Goldflam told the inquiry.
In his statement, Mr Goldflam said the principle of detention being the last resort had to have a practical effect, and recommended supported bail accommodation be considered.
"In many cases, attempts are made to bail a child to a family member with various conditions, but it's a bit of a tenuous arrangement built on hope perhaps more than real expectation," Mr Goldflam said.
“And sure enough, the aunty on the town camp isn't able to make sure the child's home by 7pm and the child's found in town at 8pm and that happens a few times and they aren't given bail again."
He went on to criticise the previous Northern Territory government for creating a community that allowed for violence against vulnerable children, by using inflammatory rhetoric to demonise young offenders.
He pointed to the language used by former Corrections Minister John Elferink, when he said “we will crack down on them and we will control them", and a Facebook post from the previous Chief Minister Adam Giles, proposing to change the bail act to deny bail for young people arrested on repeat property offence charges.
"The way in which this inflammatory rhetoric was being pumped out into the community, in my view, had this toxic corrupting effect on the administration of our youth detention and youth justice systems because it empowered, it permitted people perhaps, not to read as closely the protocols which were to restrain their behaviour,” he said.
"It gives permission to people who have the authority legally to use force against youths... effectively to use that force to punish.”
He said it reminded him of a time in the late 1990’s when previous leaders in the NT used similar language, and passed mandatory sentencing laws specifically aimed at youths for property offending.
"A couple of years ago, here we go again, the same vitriol and hatred being promulgated not just by shocks jocks but by the people we've elected to run our territory," Mr Goldflam said.
The 1990’s period of rhetorical extravagance ended when a 15-year-old boy hanged himself in Don Dale.
Mr Goldflam told the commission he feared another youth death in custody could occur if this attitude persists.
"This background of inflammatory rhetoric in my view was extremely dangerous, was extremely damaging, and it infuriates me we haven't learned from the same events that took place in the 1990s with catastrophic consequences."
Mr Goldflam also explained the justice system could not be separated from the protection system, and pointed to the case of teenage detainee Dylan Voller who was first imprisioned when he was 11-years-old, just one year after being placed into government care.
“When he was in care and living in a residential home, he was living with older children who introduced him to criminal activity. And certainly that’s not an isolated phenomenon,” Mr Goldflam said.
Request to extend commission
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for federal Attorney-General George Brandis has confirmed he’s considering a request to extend the reporting date for the royal commission to August next year.
The commission was originally scheduled to run for only six months, due to report in March 2017.
The Attorney General’s office said the extension is being “considered as a matter of priority”.