The Number Of Indigenous Kids In NT Detention Has Doubled In Six Months Under New Bail Laws

Harsh new bail laws are being blamed for the number of children in detention in the NT, almost all of whom are Indigenous, having almost doubled in the last six months.

Youth detention centres in the NT are at their fullest since the 2017 Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory reported its findings, so it seems no one has learnt a thing.

Roughly 60 kids per day have been detained in Darwin and Alice Springs in November 2021, including the first 10-year-old to be detained since the commission. 82 per cent of those are held on remand and ultimately found not guilty.

Youth justice groups have attributed this shocking climb in cases to new state laws introduced in May 2021 that make it harder for young people to be let out on bail.

The bail amendment automatically removed the right to bail for offenders and removed the presumption of bail for first-time offenders. It also reduced a judge’s ability to consider extenuating circumstances or alternatives to being held on remand.

The amendment was originally recommended by the NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker to deter kids from reoffending. But principal legal officer at North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency David Woodroffe told the ABC it was designed to arrest children, bring them back into court and place them in detention.

“What we see is really an inevitable tragedy that has been occurring since the bail amendment legislation was introduced,” he said.

The NT Labor government fast-tracked the bail amendments after dismissing calls from health and legal groups and from within the party to consult on the changes.

At the time the sole vote against the amendment came from Arnhem Land independent Yingiya Mark Guyula, who said it created an “inherent culture of racism” by targeting Aboriginal children.

“This bill sets the path for everyone to walk on — a path that says it’s OK to lock up kids,” he said.

Australia has one of the youngest ages of criminal responsibility in the world at just 10. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends 14 years be the minimum age someone can be held criminally responsible for their actions, as a mountain of medical evidence shows children’s brains are still rapidly developing  until then.

Around 65% of incarcerated children aged between 10 and 13 in Australia are First Nations, despite making up a tiny percent of the population.

Despite long-running campaigns to Raise the Age, Australia still resists local and global pressure.

The NT government promised to raise the age based on recommendations from the commission, but it didn’t.

The federal government made its five-yearly appearance before the UN Human Rights Council in July 2021 and was told by 120 countries to improve its human rights record by raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14, but it didn’t.

Meanwhile the $55 million replacement of the Don Dale detention centre — recommended by the commission after it was the subject of a horrifying Four Corners report into the violence and aggression against kids inside titled ‘Australia’s Shame’ — has been redesigned to increase capacity by 30 per cent.

This colony has been taking First Nations children from their families since settlement and governments, regardless of commissions and campaigns, have done nothing but perpetuate violence, trauma and racism.