Youth Detention Is Spiking In The NT, With 60 Kids Being Locked Up Every Single Day

A 10-year-old boy spent time in Don Dale this month.

Don Dale

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On average, nearly 60 young people a day have been detained in the Northern Territory this month alone, with the damning figure being double what it was this time last year.

Government data shows that for the first three weeks of November in Alice Springs and Darwin, majority of these young people were male, and all but five detainees were Aboriginal. The spike is attributed to strengthened laws introduced in May, which made it harder for youth offenders to get bail in a controversial move that was met with opposition from both Indigenous legal groups and children rights advocates.

“How can the NT Government say it’s serious about closing the gap or the Aboriginal Justice Agreement if it keeps imprisoning primary school aged Aboriginal children at escalating rates,” lawyer at Aboriginal-led justice group Change The Record Sophie Trevitt said on Twitter about the stats.

At the same time, Don Dale — the infamous youth detention centre a Northern Territory Royal Commission called to be immediately shut down four years ago over abuse cases — has been redesigned to fit in 30 percent more people, according to the ABC. In the midst is a 10-year-old boy who spent three days in remand at Don Dale this month, around the same time former detainees reflected on the traumatic experiences they endured in Darwin’s Supreme Court during a $35 million class action suit.

“I honestly hope the Northern Territory youth system can work better in the future because I’ve spilled many tears seeing young Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal kids in prison clothing before they could experience true love and happiness in their young lives,” lead applicant Aaron Hyde shared with the courtroom.

On November 12, the Northern Territory government agreed in principle to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years old, but their goals are cancelled out by their bail reforms, which will only detain more children, and trap them in a dangerous cycle that threatens to heighten recidivism rates.

“This law is designed to arrest children and bring children back into court and, in what follows from there, into detention,”  North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency Principal Legal Officer David Woodroffe told the ABC. “We need to be keeping kids out of detention, keeping kids on country in their communities, and supporting them rather than building bigger and bigger jails.”