This document is NAAJA'S submissions to assist the Commission to frame practical recommendations that will improve outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people. NAAJA have drawn on their unique organisational knowledge, Aboriginal understandings and expertise as a long-term provider of culturally competent legal, therapeutic and social services to Aboriginal young people in Northern Australia. The organisation has been particularly informed by the experiences of their clients, many of whom have bravely come forward to tell their stories to the Commission and share their ideas for change in the hope that the abuse and indignities they endured are never repeated. NAAJA endorses each of the submissions made on behalf of its clients who gave evidence to the Commission.
The current approach to youth justice in the Northern Territory is not working. Responses are driven by the perceived need to be seen as ‘tough on crime’ rather than to understand and address the underlying causes of offending. Punitive, reactionary approaches have contributed to the unacceptably high rate of Aboriginal children in detention: 96 per cent of young people in detention in the Northern Territory are Aboriginal, despite being 45 per cent of the population aged 10 to 17 years.
The system is fragmented, with agencies and services operating in ‘silos’ rather than providing holistic, coordinated responses. There is a lack of a cohesive framework setting out the shared objectives of the youth justice system and guiding the actions of government and non-government agencies towards the goals of rehabilitation, reintegration and reduction of offending. There is now overwhelming evidence that incarceration of young people is counterproductive public policy.
- That there is an immediate investment in early childhood intervention and risk-focused prevention services and programs for Aboriginal children and young people, from the earliest years of life onwards.
- It is recommended that the government commits to the APO NT Partnership Principles and the creation of genuine partnerships with Aboriginal community controlled services and programs.
- That the partnerships are premised on building and strengthening, rather than displacing, Aboriginal organisational capacity and control. New services and programs must be co-designed with Aboriginal communities and organisations.
- All police trainees and officers should undertake youth-oriented training. All officers who interact with youth should undertake ongoing youthoriented training as a yearly training requirement.
- Police in each remote Aboriginal community should undertake relevant cross-cultural training.
- That the register of persons to act as support persons includes Aboriginal Law and Justice Groups and/or Aboriginal community bodies. And that these and all support persons are trained in recognising the need for a child to access a lawyer prior to interview