Northern Territory authorities detained a juvenile without trial for more than six months, after an exposé of conditions at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre sparked national uproar and a royal commission.
The minor, who was held for 193 days after being denied bail, is among the 231 juveniles who were remanded in custody in the Territory in 2016-2017, according to figures obtained by The New Daily under freedom of information laws. The youngest juvenile detained without a sentence was 12 years old.
Territory Families, which manages youth justice, declined to provide details of the charges or whether a conviction was recorded in either of the two cases, citing privacy restrictions.
The figures cover almost exactly the one-year period after the ABC aired footage of the mistreatment of juvenile detainees in the NT, sparking a royal commission into the Territory’s youth justice system.
The data also covers most of the first year in power of the NT’s Labor government, which has vowed since its August 2016 election to end the routine detention of minors on remand.
The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children, which announced its findings last November, cited remand detention as a primary reason for sky-high incarnation rates among young people in the NT.
The commission found that 71 per cent of young people in detention in 2015-2016 were on remand, with many released without a sentence of detention upon reaching court.
“In our last submission to the royal commission we assert that whilst detention as a last resort is enshrined in the NT Youth Justice Act, in reality children in the NT are detained on remand because of welfare concerns – including lack of a responsible adult – health concerns, substance misuse and because of a lack of suitable accommodation,” Shahleena Musk, a lawyer at Human Rights Law Centre, told The New Daily.
The remand figures reflected a system geared toward incarcerating young people rather than supporting them, Ms Musk said.
“The failure to treat children differently from adults, the absence of pro-bail considerations, the failure to provide supports and services including bail programs and youth specific accommodation services in addition to rehabilitation programs all contributes to this situation.”
Territory Families told The New Daily it was committed to getting children out of pre-trial detention and “diverting them onto a good path in life, where they can achieve their true potential”.
“The NT government introduced a range of bail support services earlier this year, to offer an alternative to remand in detention,” said senior media officer Hayley Palazzi.
“These services include bail support accommodation, bail supervision and a bail support line. Bail support accommodation helps young people to meet their conditions, while also providing a through-care support system for young people leaving detention, where they are subject to bail conditions.”
Ms Palazzi cautioned, however, that it would take time for the government’s reforms to bear results.
“It will take time for this service to be fully utilised by all stakeholders, as it’s not something that ever existed previously in the Northern Territory,” she said.
“This includes the young people understanding that these facilities are not detention.”
In January, the ABC reported that just three youths were living in new supported bail accommodation facilities in the NT, compared to nearly three dozen residing in detention centres.
Minister for Territory Families Dale Wakefield at the time insisted that the government was on track to ultimately transfer all youth to suitable accomodation.
“It is not a Northern Territory government decision to remand a young person in custody; that is a decision for the courts and the judge,” Ms Wakefield told The New Daily, while pointing to the recent introduction of bail support services.
“These services form part of the $18.2 million Better Outcomes for Youth Justice Reform package announced in early 2017.”