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Australia: Alice Springs youth crime: Grandmothers call for return to country — not custody

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Elaine Peckham wants more information about planned measures to combat youth crime in Alice Springs. (ABC Alice Springs: Charmayne Allison) © Provided by ABC News (AU) Elaine Peckham wants more information about planned measures to combat youth crime in Alice Springs. (ABC Alice Springs: Charmayne Allison)

A group of senior First Nations women in Alice Springs are continuing to call for children to be placed back on country, not in custody, amid rising tensions over youth crime in the region.

The Strong Grandmothers Group of the Central Desert held a snap action on the Alice Springs courthouse lawns today to mark five years since The Royal Commission into the Detention and Protection of Children in the Northern Territory handed down its final report.

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Senior Western Arrernte woman Doreen Carroll Nungurla said little had changed since.

"We need to do better than what’s been done now," she said.

"But nothing's been done really."

It comes as rates of young people being held in the territory's two youth detention centres, almost all of whom are Indigenous, surges in the wake of "tougher than ever" youth bail legislation changes.

But Ms Nungurla said youth detention wasn't the solution.

"We need to get these kids back onto country," she said.

Pressure for action on crime

The royal commission's anniversary comes as the Northern Territory government faces increasing pressure to address surging youth crime in Alice Springs.

NT Police Minister Kate Worden last week flagged plans for an "intervention" to get unsupervised young children off the town's streets late at night.

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Under the plan, young people picked up by police could be taken to a "safe place" for a child protection assessment instead of being returned home.

But Eastern Arrernte woman Elaine Peckham, a member of Strong Grandmothers, was sceptical.

"When you look at it, what is a safe place?" she said.

"If there's a safe place, we need to see it."

The day after it was announced, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Selena Uibo said while she backed the plan, she wouldn't use the term "intervention" – which many in the Territory associate with the controversial federal government policy that targeted Indigenous communities.

The government has said more details of the plan would be revealed in coming weeks, once legal issues were resolved.

Speaking up for change

The Strong Grandmothers have spent significant time with young people on the streets of Alice Springs — including as part of a night patrol trial funded in 2021 by Alice Springs Town Council.

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They are considered senior authority figures in their community.

But despite their first-hand experience, they feel the government hasn't properly consulted Aboriginal groups like theirs when it came to addressing youth crime.

"They need to be making decisions with people on the ground, First Nations people on the ground, before it goes to Parliament," Ms Peckham said.

"And that hasn't happened."

It was a deeply personal cause for Arrernte and Anmatjere woman Patricia Ansell Dodds.

She was removed from her family in the 50s.

She didn't want to see other children suffer the same experience.

"It has to stop," she said.

More funding to keep children on country

Ms Dodds said the majority of young people they spoke to who engaged with criminal activity were from outside communities, not Alice Springs.

"They need to go back home and their elders teach them about their country," she said.

Ms Nungurla said more funding should be focused on attracting young people to stay on country, or return there.

"We need to fix the homelands up, there’s nothing there for them," she said.

"But that's the safest place they can be."

But Ms Peckham said she was still hopeful for change.

"I live in hope that one day, we can sit back and say we've done it," she said.

"And as a community, not just behind closed doors."

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