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So many indigenous kids in NT detention

Thalia Anthony |  29 June 2018

Across Australia, Indigenous children constitute at least 54% of children in juvenile detention centres. Indigenous children are 26 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in detention.

A royal commission set up to examine this system must interrogate the failures of an interventionist law-and-order approach for Indigenous children and their families, and identify pathways for taking Indigenous children out of jail and returning them to their families.
The proportion of Indigenous children in penal detention centres in the NT is higher than in any other state or territory. The number of children in NT juvenile detention centres who are Indigenous has continued to climb in recent years. Today the number is 100%.
The territory’s youth detention rate is six times the national average. It has the highest number of children in juvenile detention per 100,000 10-to-19-year-olds in Australia. Of these, approximately 60% are in the care of the NT’s Department of Children and Families.
The NT juvenile detention centres are overwhelming filled with children who have not been proven guilty of a crime or sentenced. Rather, they are detained while on remand.
Although not as high, these figures are consistent with the over-representation of Indigenous children nationally – both in juvenile detention centres and under child protection orders.
Over the past decade, due to some key shifts in Indigenous policy and criminal laws, the number of Indigenous children in NT juvenile detention centres has more than doubled. Any examination of the reasons for the over-representation of Indigenous children in prisons and out-of-home care needs to consider these shifts.
There has been a recent surge in law-and-order approaches in Aboriginal communities in the NT. In mid-2006, the federal government deployed Federal Police to NT communities and committed A$130 million to law-and-order strategies. In 2007, it embarked on the Northern Territory Intervention.
The government introduced legislation giving extended powers to police in Aboriginal communities. It prohibited certain information on Indigenous background from being considered when determining bail and sentencing Indigenous people.
The Intervention required the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act, because the policies were racially discriminatory. Most of these measures have since been enshrined in the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act.
This act also provides special policing powers for designated “alcohol-protected areas”, which cover most NT Aboriginal communities. The legislation created a lawful context for discriminatory treatment in the policing and sentencing of Indigenous people.
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Thalia Anthony

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