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Doctors and lawyers condemn NT Government's proposed youth justice reforms

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A group of doctors, lawyers and human rights experts have condemned the Northern Territory Government’s proposed youth justice reforms.

The government is expected to introduce its measures to parliament next Tuesday, which include the automatic revocation of bail, breath testing for young drivers and expanding the list of prescribed offences and electronic monitoring.

But some legal and health professionals have labeled the measures as “dangerous and ineffective” claiming they would be a backward step after the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children.

Northern Australia Aboriginal Justice Agency CEO Priscilla Atkins says the government’s proposal is solely focused on locking up kids and will not support young people or the community.

“Our lawyers work with young people across the Northern Territory every day, and know first-hand that these kids need support, health care and properly resourced diversion programs.”

“It is unacceptable that the Government would consider continuing to detain youth in Don Dale at all, let alone reopen previously shutdown sections of the former prison.”

Ms Atkins is calling on the government to address the causes of youth offending through diversion, therapeutic and restorative programs.

Paediatrician Doctor Nick Fancourt, who provides services to the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre says a lot of the children have complex health and developmental needs.

“These include cognitive impairments, mental illness, and trauma. We frequently identify children with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder [FASD] and other neurological impairments that require specialised therapeutic interventions,” he says.

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Doctor Fancourt says while there is no firm data on the prevalence of FASD at the youth detention centre early indications suggest more than a third of detainees have the condition.

“Even short periods of detention have effects on the health and wellbeing of children. Don Dale does not meet the therapeutic or rehabilitation needs of young offenders.”

He says therapeutic measures and diversion will prevent children from becoming entrenched in the justice system.

Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT CEO John Paterson says locking kids up at a former adult prison, which was recommended to be closed, is “inhumane, expensive and ineffective.”

“We should not be legislating to put more children in an environment that is inherently harmful to the health and wellbeing of young people and does nothing to prevent youth offending.”

“The Government is ignoring extensive evidence that alternatives like victim offender conferencing, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and family support services, will make the whole community safer by reducing offending and reoffending.”

Danila Dilba Health Service CEO Olga Havnen says their diversionary services have been successful in reducing offending.

“In the last financial year, 70 per cent of the young people who completed a diversion program did not reoffend.”

“The NTG has been very quick to make announcements that fly in the face of all evidence but have failed to talk to the service providers who are on the ground delivering the programs that are actually making a difference.”

(Photos: Generic Don Dale images supplied byDanila Dilba Health Service).