Protesters have gathered outside the Northern Territory’s infamous Don Dale youth prison to demand an end to the detention of indigenous children.
Dozens of Aboriginal children will see in the new year behind bars, four years after the NT government agreed to close it.
Inmate numbers have climbed to 44 in recent months after the NT government toughened youth bail laws earlier in the year.
“This has now been going on for seven years, four years after a royal commission recommended closing it down,” Darwin lawyer John B Lawrence SC told AAP on Friday.
“These children are staying in cells previously occupied by rapists, killers and paedophiles”.
About 20 protesters gathered late on Friday near the entrance of the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Berrimah at the site of the condemned Darwin Correctional Centre.
Kids behind bars
They held placards, one reading “unjust, unconscionable and unAustralian”, and declared they would campaign until the children were released.
Mr Lawrence is representing an 11-year-old Indigenous boy on remand in the former men’s prison.
The boy’s bail application for bail was rejected by the court on Friday.
“He is occupying a cell on his own and he’s locked down at 6.30pm every night, and in the last couple of days he only been allowed out for one hour three times a day due to staff shortages,” he said.
“To me that’s just barbarism writ large”.
In 2017, the NT government accepted recommendations from the NT juvenile justice royal commission to shut down and replace Don Dale.
But four years on, a new facility is not complete.
Most of the alleged child offenders the NT justice system deals with are Aboriginal.
Mr Lawrence, a former president of the NT Bar Association and former president of the Criminal Lawyers Association, said the situation was “shameful and embarrassing” and must stop.
There were 34 children detained in the Don Dale youth detention centre and 15 in an Alice Springs facility, according to an NT government census on December 13.
The final report of a royal commission into the protection and detention of children in the NT revealed systemic and shocking failures, including regular, repeated and distressing mistreatment of young people.
The NT government accepted in full or in principle all 227 recommendations.
Sealed in their cells
The territory’s Children’s Commissioner released a report earlier in the month slamming conditions in the NT’s youth detention centres.
Increased prisoner numbers and staff shortages impacted the ability to provide basic services to inmates, Commissioner Sally Sievers found.
Some inmates were locked in their cells for more than 23 hours and 45 minutes a day and denied adequate access to education and medical services.
The NT government has previously told AAP said that it is working to reform the territory’s youth justice system and significant progress had been made to implement 218 recommendations.
Work on a new Darwin youth detention facility is underway and the Alice Springs facility is being refurbished.
Experts have recommended raising the age of criminal responsibility in the NT from 10 to 14. The NT government supports this in principle to age 12.