Prime Minister: It’s time for national leadership on youth justice

Today as the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory hands down its interim report, Amnesty International Australia joins more than 100 organisations in an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, calling on him to develop a national action plan on youth justice.

Dear Prime Minister Turnbull,

Today the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory will hand down its interim report. To date, the public hearings of the Royal Commission have revealed countless stories of systemic cruel, inhumane and degrading mistreatment of children, the vast majority being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

The issue of over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people remains a national crisis. Nationally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are 25 times more likely to be sent to youth detention than their non-Indigenous counterparts, yet they make up just 5% of the national youth population.

The abuse and mistreatment of youth detainees is not just isolated to the Northern Territory, but has occurred in other detention centres across Australia. In the past six months we have heard damning reports, highlighting shocking allegations of abuse in Queensland youth detention facilities, the disturbing use of isolation, separation and lock downs of children in Victoria’s youth detention centres and similarly awful reports from Cobham Youth Detention Centre in Sydney. A recent report by the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Victoria found that Koori kids were disproportionately subject to isolation whilst in detention.

This is a national crisis, which demands an immediate national response.

a map of Australia with pinpoints of incidents of abuse in each state and territory. © AI

Just last year a Vote Compass survey found that two-thirds of Australians want our federal government to commit to reducing the rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being imprisoned.

Our kids don’t belong in prison. Instead we should be supporting young people at risk to maximise their chances of achieving their full potential and making a meaningful contribution to society.

We, the undersigned, call on you and your government to work in partnership with the States and Territories to immediately take action to improve Australia’s youth justice system and end the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in detention.

We urge you to play a leadership role and work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, their organisations and representative bodies to:

  • Set meaningful National Justice Targets through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) ‘Closing the Gap’ framework;
  • Develop, through COAG, a fully-resourced national plan of action on youth justice, drawing on the recommendations of the Change the Record Coalition’s Blueprint for Change;
  • Invest in effective community-led early intervention, prevention and diversion programs, to ensure detention of children is a last resort; and
  • Design and implement a national preventative mechanism against torture and mistreatment indetention as soon as possible, in line with your Government’s commitment to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT).

Yours Sincerely,

Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat (AbSec); ACOSS; ACTCOSS; ACTU; Amnesty International Australia; Anglican Social Responsibilities Commission, Diocese of Perth; Anglicare NT; ANTaR; APO NT; ARC Justice; Arthur Bolkas Consultancy; Association of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies NT; Australian College of Midwives; Australian Health Promotion Association; Australian Indigenous Alpine Sport Foundation; Australian Lawyers for Human Rights; Australian Physiotherapy Association; AYAC; Berry Street; CatholicCare NT; Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare; Cohealth; Common Grace; Community Legal Centres NSW; Community Legal Centres Queensland; CRANAplus; CREATE Foundation; Criminal Lawyers Association of the Northern Territory (CLANT; Dawn House; Disabled Peoples Organisations Australia; Drummond Street Services; Elizabeth Evatt Community Legal Centre; Families ACT; Federation of Community Legal Centres (Vic); First Peoples Disability Network; Fitzroy Legal Service Inc; Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre; FVPLS Victoria; Gippsland Community Legal Service; Human Rights Law Centre; Hunter Community Legal Centre; IARC Immigration Advice & Rights Centre; Illawarra Legal Centre; Indigenous Allied Health Australia; Indigenous Eye Health; Jesuit Social Services; Just Reinvest NSW; Justice Reinvestment SA; Kingsford Legal Centre; Koorie Youth Council; Law Council of Australia; Law Institute of Victoria; Life Without Barriers; Making Justice Work; Melbourne City Mission; NACCHO; NACLC; National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services; National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples; National Ethnic Disability Alliance; National FVPLS Forum; Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission; NSW Reconciliation Council; NTCOSS; Organisation; Oxfam Australia; People with Disability Australia; PIAC; Plan International Australia; Prison Songs Impact Campaign; Protect All Children Today Inc.; Public Health Association of Australia; QATSICPP; Queensland Advocacy Inc; Reconciliation Australia; Reconciliation South Australia; Reconciliation Victoria; Redfern Legal Centre; SACOSS; Sacred Heart Conference; Save the Children; Shopfront; Show Me The Way Incorporated Association; Sisters Inside; Smart Justice for Young People; SNAICC – National Voice for Our Children; Social Determinants of Health Alliance; South Sudanese Community Association In Victoria.; South West Sydney Legal Centre; Southern Aboriginal Corporation; Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation; The Bridge of Hope Foundation Inc; The Kimberley Foundation; The Royal Australasian College of Physicians; The Valuing Children Initiative; UNICEF Australia; VCOSS; WACOSS; WEAVE; WEstjustice; White Lion; Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service; Women with Disabilities Australia; Youth Action; Youth Advocacy Centre Inc; Youth Affairs Council of Victoria; Youth Affairs Council of Western Australia; Youth Coalition of the ACT; Youth Network of Tasmania; Youthlaw