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Shut down Don Dale and reform juvenile justice: royal commission


A Northern Territory royal commission has recommended the closure of Darwin’s notorious Don Dale Detention Centre, raising the age of criminal responsibility and ending long periods of isolation and restraint for child inmates.

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The final report of the $54 million inquiry, which was sparked when footage of boys being tear gassed, wearing spit hoods and shackled was aired on television last year, was released today.

The child protection and youth justice commission also pushes for a major policy shift favouring rehabilitation and community-led measures over electorally popular “tough on crime” solutions.

“The time for tinkering around the edges and ignoring the conclusions of the myriad of inquiries that have already been conducted must come to an end,” Commissioners Margaret White and Mick Gooda said.

The inquiry believes its youth justice recommendations will save the NT government nearly $336 million over the next decade.

In contrast, if no action is taken youth detention costs would rise to $113 million a year, from $37 million, by 2026/27.

“Human costs dwarf financial considerations and if no action is taken these will continue to escalate beyond the already unacceptable levels,” White and Gooda said.

The commissioners advised the Gunner NT government to instead invest in small facilities.

The Labor government has already committed to replacing Don Dale but was awaiting advice from the commission before taking action.

The commission also advocates for the age when children can be charged, brought to court and imprisoned be lifted from 10 years to 12 years.

It wants the High Security Unit within Don Dale shut down immediately and an end to the detention of kids under 14 years unless they are charged with “serious” offences.

The 15-month inquiry, which took twice as long as originally intended, also recommended an end to the use of restraints and isolation for managing detainee behaviour.

White and Gooda also proposed a Commission for Children and Young People be set up to oversee detention centres and vulnerable children be dealt with by a specialist youth court.


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