Minister Dale Wakefield (right) and Territory Families manager Brent Warren (left) at the new youth detention centre site. (ABC News: Jacqueline Breen)
The Northern Territory Government has conceded a site next to Darwin’s adult prison is not the best option for its new youth detention centre, but Minister Dale Wakefield says the Government “will not apologise” for listening to community uproar.
- The new youth detention centre will be built 300 metres from Darwin’s adult prison
- Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield said the new facility would be “purpose-built” and “separate” from the adult prison
- Royal commission barrister says the NT Government’s disregard of its final report was becoming “predictable”
The new 30-bed facility will be built 300 metres from the Darwin Correctional Precinct at Holtze — despite the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children saying the new facility should not be built near the adult prison.
But Ms Wakefield said the Government was left “without a perfect solution” after a backlash from business owners and residents forced it to abandon its preferred site in an industrial part of Pinelands.
The Government considered seven other sites — including one inside the adult jail precinct — before settling on 15 hectares of vacant Crown land at Holtze.
“We got extremely strong feedback that our location [at Pinelands] that we had previously proposed was not suitable, that businesses did not want that facility in their proximity,” she said.
“This government will not apologise for listening to the community — that is our job.”
She said the Government had to listen to “the whole community” when asked about the young mostly Aboriginal people to be affected by the decision.
Aboriginal groups were not consulted about the location of the facility and were told of the Government’s decision on Monday.
Ms Wakefield said stakeholders would be involved in the design of the $60 million facility, which has been underway since late last year.
“What we have at the moment [at Don Dale] is an adult prison that’s been converted to try and meet the needs, and we know that that is continuing to fail,” she said.
“We want this to be a fresh start within our youth justice system, in a youth justice system that works and does what the community wants,” Ms Wakefield said.
The new centre is slated to open in March 2022.
Children to be kept separate from adult prisoners
The Government said the Holtze option met the most criteria with its size, accessibility, proximity to health, police and emergency services and surrounding scrubland buffer.
Ms Wakefield also said the site was acceptable because children in detention at the new facility would have a separate entrance and be “out of the line of sight” from adult prisoners.
“The royal commission said [the new facility] should not be in the line of sight of an adult facility … I think we’ve got the balance right there in that it isn’t visible,” Ms Wakefield said.
The Government said the new youth detention centre will not be within line of sight of Darwin’s adult prison. (Supplied)
The royal commissioner’s final report did not include reference to line of sight but said that a replacement youth facility should not be placed in close proximity to adult prison precincts.
“In a perfect world I would also want to meet, to the letter, all of [the royal commission] recommendations, but we are very clear … we’re building a new facility, we’re acknowledging that it needs to be a purpose-built, specially designed facility that focuses on rehabilitation that has specially trained staff,” she said.
“And whilst notionally people do know where the adult facility is naturally, this will be specifically designed for young people and their specific needs.”
‘The last area you want kids placed’
Darwin barrister and former North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency principal lawyer John Lawrence excoriated the Government for its plans to build the new facility next to an adult prison, labelling the decision “contrary to all learning on how to deal with juveniles”.
Mr Lawrence, who represented children at the royal commission, said placing children in detention in proximity to adult prisoners could be disastrous.
“The last thing you need is for a facility to be adjacent to or within a precinct of adult men and women,” Mr Lawrence said.
“Although it can be said that on occasions children can commit extremely serious crimes, but that’s very rare, generally speaking, kids that have to be placed in detention, usually for repeating offences of a medium to lower scale, are a completely different package to dealing with adult criminals.
Youth justice advocates like Darwin barrister John Lawrence say placing a youth prison in proximity to an adult prison could be disastrous. (ABC News: Ruby Jones)
“Kids can be dealt with effectively, economically and appropriately in a facility which is not part of the Holtze prison.”
Mr Lawrence said the Government was becoming “predictable” by continuing to ignore the royal commission’s blueprint.
“When the recommendations came down after the royal commission [the Government] was in agreement in principle with all of them. It has now backflipped yet again,” Mr Lawrence said.
Shocking footage demonstrating the maltreatment of children in detention sparked a royal commission in 2016/17. (Supplied)