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Preventing child abuse in prison starts before prison

Red Cross welcomes the findings of the Royal Commission into Child Protection and Detention in the Northern Territory, and calls for immediate action to keep vulnerable children out of prison.

Andy Kenyon, Red Cross Executive Director for the Northern Territory, said: “If we never want to see another child hooded and strapped to a chair, the solution doesn’t start in prison.

“A much better alternative is to divert vulnerable young people away from a life of crime. This not only prevents potential abuse in detention facilities, but keeps us all safer.”

Red Cross made several recommendations in a submission to the Royal Commission.  They cover reforms to the law such as increasing the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12, as well as calls to increase funding for services that support young people.

Mr Kenyon said: “There are several good models in place that should be sustainably expanded.

“In Broome, for example, boys identified by the police as being in need of support have joined the Young Warriors program. The boys now regularly get out of town and reconnect with on country. Many of them now see the role they can play in supporting their friends, and are working towards a safer, crime-free future.”

Red Cross also recommends support for people at every step, from family support and early intervention through to programs that will divert young offenders away from prison and support young people who have committed crimes to stop.

Mr Kenyon said: “It can’t simply be a punitive approach that leads to more damage and abuse.

“Many of the young people Red Cross deals with are at the beginning of what has the potential to be a lifetime of crime and imprisonment but with support and enormous personal effort they are re-engaging in education, work and volunteering.”

If we’re going to spend $3.8 billion a year nationally on prisons, wouldn’t it be wiser to spend more of it on preventing crime, rather than dealing with it after the fact?

Andy Kenyon, Red Cross

The Red Cross Step Out program in South Australia works with young who have been in youth detention or supervision to help them set positive goals and develop purpose in their lives. According to local police, nine out of ten of the young people involved in the program would be institutionalised without the support of the Step Out peer mentors.

Another recommendation of Red Cross and the commission is ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are driving the change needed.  Red Cross is working alongside communities in places like Katherine in the Northern Territory and Woorabinda in Central Queensland, to support their vision and goals. In Woorabinda, investment in their young people through leadership and skills development, saw a drop of 55% in the number of young people subject to youth justice orders.

“If we’re going to spend $3.8 billion a year nationally on prisons, wouldn’t it be wiser to spend more of it on preventing crime, rather than dealing with it after the fact?” Mr Kenyon said.

“We need to heed the recommendations of the Royal Commission, not only to prevent another Don Dale-type scandal but to stop more crimes from being committed, because we all deserve to be safe.”

For media inquiries, please contact Alice Crowley 0400 942 861 or acrowley@redcross.org.au

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