Tear gas, denial of water or toilets, forced isolation for more than 24 hours, and other cruel punishments should not be used on children, says the Royal Commission into the Protection of Children in the Northern Territory in its final report.
The recommends are numerous, extending over several pages of dot point single sentence summaries alone. Many seek to ensure that adults with an interest in the children’s well-being will have both access and evidence if they need to intervene. Others seek to ensure basic humanity in the standard of care in detention.
The detention system failed to comply with basic binding human rights standards in the treatment of children and young people, the commission concluded. In some cases there would very likely be lasting psychological damage.
The Northern Territory and Commonwealth governments were right to commission this Inquiry and what we have found vindicates their decision, royal commissioners Margaret White and Mick Gooda said in a statement today.
“These things happened on our watch, in our country, to our children,” the commissioner said. “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.
“Only fundamental change and decisive action will break the seemingly inevitable cycle we have found of many children in care continuing to progress into the youth justice system and detention.
“Perpetuating a failed system that hardens young people, does not reduce reoffending and fails to rehabilitate young lives and set them on a new course, is a step backwards.
“The failures we have identified have cost children and families greatly, they have not made communities safer and they are shocking.”
In addition to closing the current Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, the commission also recommends a new children’s court, a Commission for Children and Young People, and an early intervention family support program.
The commission was particularly concerned at how children were being introduced to the criminal justice system as a very young age. The age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 12. Children under 14 should not be detained except for serious offences. New models of secure detention should also be explored.