14 February 2024

NT Chief Minister announces plan to curb youth crime, support victims

| James Day
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Chief Lawler talking to journalists with two of her staff members beside her.

Chief Minister Eva Lawler has announced changes to the youth justice system. Photo: Facebook/Eva Lawler MLA.

As the Northern Territory parliament returns to business, Chief Minister Eva Lawler has declared the government’s intentions for reforming its youth justice system.

On top of a review of relevant legislation like its Youth Justice Act 2005, the top end plans to have three residential youth facilities up by mid-year, and will expand its Co-Responder program to Katherine and Tennant Creek.

Each of these is, respectively, an effort to curb youth crime, support victims, and provide a better future for young people with skills, training and education.

“I know we need to do more to get at-risk young people on the right track,” said Ms Lawler. “We need parents to step up and be part of how we fix this.

“When they are working, and their kids are getting up and going to school, then society can function as it should.

“We want to see positive change in the lives of our young people. That means working with young people before things go wrong.”

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An external consultant will take on the NT Government’s whole-of-system review, for which Terms of Reference are being developed. Following the analysis of submissions from stakeholders and Territorians, the review will be handed back to government at the end of this year including draft amendments and potential reforms.

The review will also look at recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT, which was tabled in late 2017.

Ms Lawler said the review would tell government what needs improving and what they need to change, while the three camps being set up are paramount to community safety and getting young people on a path of employment and productivity.

Halfway through the year, facilities will be based in Darwin, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, but there’s plans for Katherine too.

The idea is for the facilities to provide courts with the option to sentence young people into a program dedicated to giving them education and training opportunities, so they can transition into work and being positive members of the community.

Police Minister Brent Potter said these facilities would place young people in a structured, supervised program, which by completion could see a reformed youth leave with positive health and educational outcomes.

“Creating a break in the offending cycle is essential for an individual to be put on a path of meaningful change, and that is exactly what youth residential facilities will do.”

Mr Potter said the government had also commissioned an independent Police Review, looking at how to guide the next four years of investment so that officers are properly supported on the job.

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In December the government established its Co-Responder Model which, following its success in Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs, is set to be expanded.

Over the next two months a review of the available infrastructure and professionals will be done in Tennant Creek and Katherine.

The welfare-based service has frontline police working intimately with Territory Families, Housing and Communities staff to keep children safe at night. Mr Potter said it would also make sure NT cops weren’t clogged up being a taxi service.

Minister for Territory Families Ngaree Ah Kit said a child should not be on the street late at night, but having front-line police and her portfolio’s staff collaborating would continue to provide better outcomes for young people.

“The co-responder model will find them a responsible adult and somewhere safe to sleep, and the following day, start addressing the issues that led them to being on the street in the first place.”

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