Health and justice experts are calling for a wide-ranging examination of Indigenous youth justice concerns in the wake of the Prime Minister’s announcement of a Royal Commission into abuses in NT systems.
The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, told ABC radio this morning that he was “shocked and appalled” by the footage aired on ABC TV’s Four Corners program last night.
As previously reported at Croakey, thousands of people had signed a petition calling for a Royal Commission into the torture and abuse of children in NT youth detention within hours of the program going to air.
The PM said the Royal Commission would be established as soon as possible, and “the aim will be to have a swift inquiry into the Don Dale Centre with a report as soon as possible”.
The Commission would also consider “whether there is a culture that spreads across the detention system in the Northern Territory, whether it was specific to that centre”. (Read the full transcript of his comments here).
While it is clearly critical that abusive individuals and systems in the NT are held to account, there are suggestions it will be a missed opportunity if the Royal Commission does not examine some of the wider issues, including the need to prevent and reduce incarceration of Indigenous youth in the first place.
(For more reading on related, check Croakey’s ongoing #JustJustice series).
Andrew Jackomos, Victoria’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, suggested on Twitter this morning that the Royal Commission should look more broadly, into the relationship between First Nations children and justice systems (see his tweets at the bottom of this post).
Senator Patrick Dodson, Labor’s shadow assistant minister for Indigenous affairs, called on the Government to take a broader look at the justice system and detention, not just the Don Dale centre.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissiner, Mick Gooda also said the Commission’s focus should be wider than the incidents at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin.
He said: “It can’t be just a royal commission into what happened in Don Dale … I think they’ve got to look nationally. I think you’ve got to look at why there are so many of our kids in detention.”
As many commentators have noted, the general concerns raised by the Four Corners report are not new or limited to the NT (see this report from Victoria in 2012 about the solitary confinement of children).
The Federal Opposition has issued a statement supporting the Royal Commission, but calling on the Turnbull Government to support the introduction of justice targets through COAG.
Further reaction and comments
Matthew Cooke, Chair of NACCHO, after watching #4corners:
The treatment of youth imprisoned in the Northern Territory is disgusting and inhumane. The justice system has failed not only the individual but society. Shameful. Sickening.
Government Ministers and Departments should be held to account. How can we expect to have these youth integrated into society after their sentence when they are abused and no doubt scarred for life with mental issues.”
Indigenous health advocate, Professor Tom Calma:
It is deplorable and unacceptable in modern Australia to treat anyone, and especially youth, in a manner shown on Four Corners tonight.
We must treat people with dignity and not in a way that the prison officers trivialised and denigrated the youth at Don Dale.
The system must reform and governments need to invest meaningfully into prevention through Justice Reinvestment initiatives and in in-prison and post release programmes.
If we consider the reasons for the Redress initiative in Queensland we would conclude by suggesting that a redress initiation was needed for Don Dale detainees.”
You can read more than 60 #JustJustice articles published to date here.
Croakey acknowledges and thanks all those who donated to support #JustJustice (see their names here). We also thank and acknowledge our premium sponsors, the Jesuit Social Services, and Frank Meany of One Vision.