What happened to the children in the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT

Associate Professor Thalia Anthony3

3University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia

In 2016, Aboriginal young people came forward to tell their stories of the trauma they endured in youth detention in the Northern Territory, Australia. These stories were punctuated by chemical gassing, mechanical restraints, hooding, forcible strip searching and other forms of torture. The announcement of a Royal Commission to inquire into the harm in youth detention was regarded as an opportunity for transformative story telling. Instead, the process marginalised and alienated the voices of young people. This paper examines the processes and findings of the Royal Commission into Youth Detention in the NT to demonstrate that children in detention were failed at every stage of the inquiry. It relies on a conceptual framework of relationality to show that the zero-sum approach adopted by the Royal Commission that held out the state as the problem or the solution had the effect of re-centering, rather than de-centering, the state in Indigenous young peoples’ lives which contradicted the cries of Aboriginal young people.


Dr Thalia Anthony’s expertise is in the areas of criminal law and procedure and Indigenous people and the law, with a particular specialisation in Indigenous women’s and young peoples’ experience of the criminal justice system and Indigenous community justice mechanisms. She has developed new approaches to researching and understanding the role of criminalisation in governing Indigenous communities and how the state regulates Indigenous-based justice strategies. Her research is informed by fieldwork in Indigenous communities and partnerships with Indigenous legal organisations in Australia and overseas.

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