NACCHO Aboriginal Youth Health : ‘Dark days of old Don Dale’: John Paterson CEO @AMSANTaus and Human rights groups condemn #NT Government and Minister Dale Wakefield’s new youth justice laws

“ The NT government talks proudly about its commitment to Aboriginal-led solutions, to co-design and to collaboration,

So why was this bill kept from those who are part of those solutions and collaborations until the moment it was introduced into the parliament?

The bill went “far beyond” clarifying technical matters,

It does not reflect the royal commission recommendations or the government’s previous policy position to accept and implement those recommendations.

These amendments bring back the draconian treatment of young people and will see children restrained and isolated at the discretion of detention staff.

Far from reducing ambiguity as the minister claims, the amendments reintroduce ambiguity with subjective definitions and powers.

The Chief Executive Officer of AMSANT, John Paterson The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory (AMSANT) today condemned the Labor Government and Minister Wakefield in the strongest possible terms for its behaviour in avoiding debate and scrutiny in order to ram through retrograde changes to the Youth Justice Act for the operation of youth detention.

Read The Guardian Amnesty coverage 

Read full AMSANT Press Releases Part 1 Below

Read over 60 NACCHO Aboriginal Health and Don Dale detention articles 

“The Territory Labor Government is creating generational change and safer communities by overhauling the Youth Justice system and putting at-risk young people back on track.

“The safety of youth detention staff and detainees is absolutely paramount. These amendments will help to better manage security risks that puts lives in danger.

“Last year we amended the Youth Justice Act to ensure that force, restraints and isolation could not be used for the purpose of disciplining a young person in detention.

“The new amendments provide clarity by removing ambiguities in the Act to ensure that youth detention staff can better respond to serious and dangerous incidents. Laws often need adjusting to reflect operational realities

Minister for Territory Families, Dale Wakefield Read Full Press release Part 2 Below 

Part 1

Mr Paterson, said “The Minister has been misleading and disingenuous in her speeches and answers to the limited questioning that was allowed in the Legislative Assembly. Despite the Minister’s assertions, these amendments are not mere technical clarifications.

They are substantive changes that erode the small improvements that were made in 2018 in response to the Royal Commission.

They will allow harsh treatment of young people in detention to continue unopposed and unscrutinised.”

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Mr Paterson said that the Bill passed this afternoon with no scrutiny, is clearly intended to retrospectively make lawful, actions that were unlawful under the law as it existed until today. “We must ask ourselves whether this unseemly and undemocratic haste is intended to defeat legal actions currently on foot by young people who believe their treatment in detention has been unlawful.

Does the government know that unlawful treatment occurred and is now seeking to avoid accountability? It is difficult to draw any other conclusion despite the Minister’s obfuscation in the Assembly” said Mr Paterson.

AMSANT believes that the harsh treatment of young people now permitted under the law will lead to increased tensions and incidents in detention. When the next major incident occurs, the government, not the young people, must be held to account. “Let’s not forget” said Mr Paterson “that a large proportion of young people in detention have significant cognitive disabilities.

The government is condoning the use of restraint, isolation and physical force against young people with disabilities because they do not have the capacity to comply with the demands of the detention environment.

Right now, young people are being restrained in handcuffs and waist shackles to simply walk from one part of Don Dale to another under the control of a guard.”

“AMSANT is disgusted by this behaviour by a government and calls on the Chief Minister to withdraw this legislation prior to it receiving the assent of the Administrator. To do otherwise is to walk away from the Royal Commission recommendations.” said Mr Paterson. Mr Paterson seeks to remind the Chief Minister of his words and apparent distress when he responded to the Royal Commission.

The Chief Minister said in November 2017, “Our youth justice and child protection systems are supposed to make our kids better, not break them, they are supposed to teach them to be part of society, not withdraw”. “This legislation is not consistent with that statement”, Mr Paterson concluded

Protestor at Alice Springs Market yesterday 

1.2 Youth Justice Amendment Bill a return to the bad old days!

Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory (AMSANT) Chief Executive Officer, John Paterson, today called on the Chief Minister to halt the progress of the Youth Justice Amendment Bill 2019 through the Legislative Assembly until Aboriginal people and organisations have the chance to have a say.

“The government talks proudly about its commitment to Aboriginal led solutions, to co-design and to collaboration” said Mr Paterson.

“So why was this Bill kept from those who are part of those solutions and collaborations until the moment it was introduced into the Parliament?”

“The Minister has said the Bill simply clarifies technical matters and keeps faith with 2018 amendments.” Mr Paterson said.

“The Bill goes far beyond that. It undoes the positive progress in the 2018 changes which were a start in implementing the Royal Commission recommendations. The government consulted with Aboriginal organisations and other youth advocates and we supported the 2018 amendments.”

Mr Paterson said that this Bill is a u-turn on the progress in 2018. It does not reflect the Royal Commission recommendations or the Government’s previous policy position to accept and implement those recommendations.

“These amendments bring back the draconian treatment of young people and will see children restrained and isolated at the discretion of detention staff. Far from reducing ambiguity as the Minister claims, the amendments reintroduce ambiguity with subjective definitions and powers.”

Mr Paterson also questioned the need for retrospective effect of these amendments. “The only reason for retrospective effect is to legalise actions that were illegal when they were taken.” AMSANT said that the safety of both staff and young people is important and called on the government to work with Aboriginal organisations and other experts to explore the safety concerns and solutions. The government needs to think more carefully about the way forward. “

If the workforce cannot safely deliver a detention system under current laws which give quite considerable powers over the young people, the government needs to look at the skills, training and support of the workforce to ensure that they can. Attacking the human rights of young people is not the solution” Mr Paterson emphasised.

Mr Paterson noted that under the Diagrama Foundation which runs 70% of youth detention in Spain, for example, highly qualified staff with expertise in youth development, trauma and de-escalation work with young people in a therapeutic way that does not involve restraint, force and isolation. “Diagrama facilities rarely experience incidents of the kind seen last year at Don Dale.

Mr McGuire from Diagrama told audiences in Darwin last year that it is at least 10 years since there was a significant incident at a Diagrama facility. And Diagrama experiences a reoffending rate of only 20% across all its residents compared to 80% in the NT.”

Part 2

Passage of Youth Justice Act Amendments to Manage Security

Risks in the Territory’s Youth Detention Centres

March 2019

Today the Territory Labor Government passed amendments to the Youth Justice Act which will clarify and tighten the existing framework for managing safety and security risks within the youth detention centres.

The amendments will provide youth detention centre staff with a clear and unambiguous framework for exercising their powers, and will enable them to have a very clear guideline in their decision making when responding to dangerous and challenging situations.

The amendments include:

  • Clarify the circumstances in which force and restraints may be used, to account for situations where detainees mayact in a way that threatens the safety or security of a detention centre, but not in a way that presents an imminent risk
  • Create a consistent test to determine what is a reasonable use of force and restraints
  • Clarify the meaning of an emergency situation, which is relevant to the general application of all uses of force • Clarify the definition of separation
  • Enable screening and pat down searches of detainees in a broader range of circumstances
  • Include an express power to transfer a detainee from one detention centre to another

The amendments will remove any uncertainty around the operation of existing powers in the legislation, for both youth detention centre staff and detainees.

The amendments will apply retrospectively to the date in which the original provisions of the Act commenced (May 2018). This will remove any doubt about the original intention of these key provisions in the legislation.

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