Amnesty International welcomes the opportunity to provide this submission to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.
The ill treatment and abuse of children in youth detention facilities in the Northern Territory and other Australian jurisdictions requires a national spotlight and sustained government leadership to address the problem.
Amnesty has been closely monitoring issues related to the imprisonment of children in the Northern Territory since mid-2014, and we have raised concerns about the treatment of children in detention with the Northern Territory Government numerous times. This is part of a wider project Amnesty has been undertaking since 2013 to study and report on the disproportionate rates at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are incarcerated across Australia.
The human rights abuses that occurred at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and sparked this Royal Commission are a result of systemic policy failures at the Northern Territory and Federal Government levels. These failures require the focused attention this Royal Commission will bring.
Abuses Nation wide
Unfortunately these abuses are not isolated to the Northern Territory. In Amnesty’s research we have identified serious concerns about the treatment of children in youth detention facilities right across the country. Amnesty notes the importance of these abuses also being fully investigated, and to that end we note the importance of the review of youth detention currently taking place in Queensland.
It is also important for the Royal Commission to consider the wider context in which these abuses have taken place. The over-representation of Indigenous young people in detention in Australia is a national crisis. Between July 2014 and June 2015, Indigenous young people were 24 times more likely to be in detention than their non-Indigenous peers across Australia. In the Northern Territory during the same year, Indigenous young people made up an average of 95 per cent of all young people in detention despite comprising 45 per cent of the Territory’s population aged between 10 and 17. Amnesty International hopes the work of this Royal Commission will lead to an Australian Government-led strategy at the Council of Australian Governments to end this overrepresentation.
Action must be taken
Amnesty urges the Royal Commission – and both the Northern Territory and Australian governments – to develop policy responses which are not simply focussed on how human rights are respected in places of detention, important as that is. The question that also must be asked is how do we find solutions to prevent children from being detained in the first place?
Read the full submission and recommendations here.