A light artist stands against a dark night sky and paints the AI candle.

Children being held in police watchhouses over Christmas: a disaster waiting to unfold

As Christmas approaches, Amnesty International Australia is calling on Premier Palaszczuk and Ministers Farmer and Ryan to remember the children trapped in watchouses across the state.

While the Premier and Ministers sit down to enjoy their Christmas lunch, the situation in Queensland continues to head towards a human rights crisis.

Brisbane Youth Detention Centre and Cleveland Youth Detention Centre are both overcrowded. Conditions can be dangerous. The Government has resorted to detaining kids in police watchhouses. It is very possible that more kids will be detained in watchhouses over the Christmas break and school holidays. With reports of overcrowding and the potential for these numbers to grow it’s a tinderbox ready to explode.

Watchhouses are no place for children. They are designed for temporary detention – not as ‘alternate’ detention for when prisons are full. When children are held in watchhouses they may have little-to-no access to health services, education or recreation.

Last week the Children’s Court President Shanahan said: “To have children as young as 11 being held in police watch houses is a travesty and a burden on the police service.”

Amnesty International is extremely concerned about issues of overcrowding that have been raised throughout the course of 2018. Children were held in police watchhouses on at least 1,267 occasions*, some as young as 11** and some held for periods of more that two weeks*.

It is often difficult to access up-to-date information about the number of kids held, periods of detention in watch houses and their age, Indigenous and disability status. The Minister and Premier are aware of the issues within the watchhouses and Queensland authorities must be transparent about how and where these children are being held.

A child locked up before age 14 is three times more likely to become a chronic adult offender. We are trapping these kids in the quicksand of the justice system, and the system is broken.

Last week Amnesty invited the Premier on a joint visit to the Brisbane City Watchhouse before the Christmas break, however no response has been received.