The Northern Territory government will refurbish extra unused blocks at the notorious Don Dale Youth Detention Centre as the number of juvenile detainees continues to rise.

Changes to Northern Territories youth bail laws has seen the number of youth in detention increase weekly, almost doubling since the controversial legislation was made law in May of this year.

$2.5 million will be spent on upgrading the Detention Centre’s abandoned blocks with Territory Families Minister Kate Worden saying, “we have to get ahead of the game.”

“If we do see that rise in numbers, then we make sure that we’ve got adequate beds and that they’re safe.”

Sophie Trevitt from Indigenous advocacy group Change the Record said, “they’re not getting ahead of anything. They’re falling so far behind on Royal Commission recommendations and falling short on their promises to Close the Gap.”

The closure and demolition of Don Dale was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into the Detention and Protection of Children in the Northern Territory five years ago.

The Royal Commission was established in 2016 after ABC’s Four Corners program aired an episode titled ‘Australia’s Shame’ which uncovered disturbing treatment of minors at the Don Dale Juvenile Centre, including “children tear-gassed in their cells, forcibly stripped naked, hooded and strapped to restraining chairs for hours, and isolated in windowless cells for weeks.”

Ms Trevitt and a slew of other Aboriginal and youth justice advocates have continuously warned, NT’s tough-on-crime approach would not reduce youth offending and would disproportionately impact Aboriginal children and young people.

Under the new laws, child offenders accused of re-offending while on bail will be automatically placed on remand and the presumption of bail for first-time offenders has been removed.

Police also have more powers to immediately place a monitoring device on a young person who is alleged to have committed a crime.

Following changes to the Bail Act and Youth Justice Act in March, NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said, “bail is a privilege, not a right”.

“Less bail, more consequences for offenders and more visibility of youth on bail makes the work of police easier and the community safer.”

The graph below shows the disproportionate rate and steady rise of Aboriginal youth in detention in Darwin and the Alice Springs.

Source: Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities.