Royal Commission Into Youth Justice – Now The Work Begins

  • The Royal Commission has delivered a comprehensive report with extensive recommendations.
  • The recommendations are predictable as to what is needed – a focus on early intervention and diversion with detention as a last resort.
  • Successfully implementing the 226 recommendations is now the challenge for the Federal and Northern Territory (NT) Governments.

–  by Peter Murphy


The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory (the Royal Commission) handed down its findings this week.[1] A thorough job has been done, as the Royal Commission has consulted widely across the Northern Territory (NT) and taken a broad view of reforming the NT’s Youth Justice system. Most importantly, it has clearly stated that early intervention and detention as a last resort should be central principles in the NT’s future approach to Youth Justice. Global experience demonstrates that this provides an excellent basis for a whole-of-government reform of the system.

The Royal Commission provided a raft of recommendations around the care and child protection system. This will primarily fall on Territory Families, requiring additional resources. This is necessary, as involvement in the child protection system results in a high likelihood of entry into the Youth Justice system. Strengthening the linkages with other agencies such as Health will also improve the ability to identify and divert children at risk. Elsewhere, the recommendation to develop a specific tool to identify those most at risk will enable their early targeting for intensive therapeutic interventions. While finding the funding to strengthen the front end of the system will be a challenge, evidence shows that it will pay dividends for not only the Treasury but the NT community as a whole.

It is no surprise that the Commissioners recommended the closing of the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. It is not fit for purpose and does not support the rehabilitation of detainees. In seeking to replace it, the NT should look at the Australian Capital Territory’s Bimberi Youth Justice Centre.[2] As a Human Rights compliant facility, it provides an excellent model for the NT. While construction can be undertaken relatively quickly, there is an urgent need to develop a trained workforce for both the new centre and the wider diversion system (including the 20 Family Support Centres). While not a specific recommendation, there is a definite need to develop a strategic workforce plan to assemble and grow this workforce in order to implement the requirements of the new system.

Once government has decided on the recommendations it will agree to implement, preparing a plan for action will become the next key task requiring careful consideration. Making sure the plan is coherent, actionable (given the capacity constraints of the NT) and provides a continuum of diversion and support, will be crucial to overall success. Sensibly, the Royal Commission has recommended that establishing specific evaluation plans be a mandatory component of policy and program development. Developing and resourcing a plan based on the Royal Commission’s well-considered recommendations, and subsequently adjusting the plan based on new insights, will ensure that the terrible events exposed by the Royal Commission are never repeated.