National

NT to build youth centre next to jail

By AAP Newswire

The Northern Territory government denies suggestions it has stopped following the royal commission's recommendations after announcing a new youth detention centre would be built next to an adult prison.

The $70 million Royal Commission into the Detention and Protection of Children in 2017 recommended that a new youth justice facility not be built near an adult jail.

The royal commission also recommended raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12, which the government is yet to implement.

The new $60 million youth detention centre will be next to Darwin's Holtze adult prison by 2022 on Crown Land about 30km from Darwin with currently no public transport to get there.

The NT government scrapped plans for a new centre in an industrial part of Darwin called Pinelands in March because of opposition by local businesses.

The government accepted in full or in principle all 227 recommendations of the royal commission, ordered after the airing on ABC in 2016 of infamous footage of teenagers at the Don Dale detention in Darwin being tear gassed and physically abused by guards.

It heard the current centres had "no therapeutic value" while also expressing concern around young people being exposed to adult prisoners and normalised life in the criminal justice system.

Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield admitted that the site next to the adult prison was not her first choice for a location but said the community had made it clear they did not want it near businesses.

The new facility would be at least 300 metres away from the adult prison, not be "in the line of sight" of it and is focused on rehabilitation, she said.

"We are implementing the royal commission as we said we would," Ms Wakefield told reporters.

"The royal commission said we needed to build a new facility and we have absolutely committed to that, we have committed to many of their recommendations around how we build that facility."

The NT government last year committed $229.6 million over five years to overhaul the child protection and youth justice systems and implement the recommendations of the royal commission.

Prominent Darwin barrister John Lawrence, who at the royal commission represented a 14-year-old Aboriginal male who had been tear gassed , said all of the research pointed to keeping children away from hardened, serious adult criminals.

"What the Labor government says, it then does the opposite," he told ABC Radio.

"Through the advice of their political advisers who always inform that there is an election looming and we might lose if we do anything that's remotely can be interpreted as being soft on crime."

Deputy Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro said the original Pinelands decision had "cost business owners great stress, time and money fighting the government for seven months".