The Queensland Government has announced that it will introduce legislation this week to transfer 17-year-old teenagers out of adult prisons within 12 months.
The change, announced a week after Amnesty released a report on Indigenous kids in QLD detention, will bring Queensland into step with the rest of Australia, and in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
What’s the situation?
Queensland is the only state in Australia where 17-year-olds are tried as adults and sent to adult prisons. This is despite the fact that 17-year-olds are technically still children – without even the right to vote.
A former Queensland Government said in 1992 that it intended to remove children from adult prisons, however, it has taken 24 years for this move to be announced. As at 1 August 2016, there were 49 children aged 17 held in adult prisons in Queensland.
Why is this important for Indigenous kids?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are sent to prison way more often than their non-Indigenous classmates. Indigenous kids make up 8 per cent of the total youth population in Queensland, but about two-thirds of kids in prison (65 per cent). This means that one in every 68 Indigenous kids in Queensland will be sent to detention. This is even higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls, who are 33 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous girls.
Adult prisons are different to children’s prisons. You have less rights and privileges, including basics like owning a toothbrush, or access to education and family. Recently the media aired footage of a 17-year-old in a spit mask and handcuffs in an adult prison.
“Sending kids to adult prisons doesn’t give them the best chance of leading positive lives, and it’s part of the reason why Indigenous kids find it hard to get out of the quicksand of the justice system,” says Amnesty’s Indigenous Rights Advisor, Rodney Dillon.
Shocked by adult prison
An 18-year-old young woman told Amnesty International that she was “absolutely gobsmacked” when she went into the adult prison as a 17-year-old.
A carer of another 17-year-old detained in an adult prison told us that children in adult prisons are “basically left to rot, and treated like dirt” and that “a lot of animals out there are probably treated a lot better.”
“I feel like I’m going back into the 18th century when I walk in there, with their attitude to everything. It’s just all about punishment, retribution, and vindictiveness and nothing about rehabilitation.”
How did Amnesty respond?
Amnesty International has been calling for the Queensland Government to end the practice of treating 17-year-olds as adults in the justice system since 2014.
We’ve been across the state gathering evidence for a research report, launched in late August, and championing Indigenous-led programs that help kids, rather than a prison cell.
Amnesty activists nationwide have been leading the call for fairer justice for Indigenous kids – calling or meeting MPs, writing submissions to the government, and holding community debates on ending the over-representation of Indigenous kids in detention.
As this announcement shows, we’re making progress!
A win for Indigenous people
“This is a win for Indigenous people,” says Randall Ross, a proud Juru/Erub and Kanaka man behind the Red Dust Healing program in Townsville. “Our Indigenous kids need more support instead of being sent to an adult prison.”
Rodney Dillon agrees. “This is a great step forward, and it’s very heartening to see. Now we’re even more determined to push for further positive changes from our governments.”
Amnesty International welcomes the leadership shown by the Queensland Government to change the laws so that children will no longer be exposed to such conditions. This is a very positive step and it is important that the Queensland Government also immediately stops trying 17-year-olds as adults, as part of these changes.
Our research reports into Indigenous youth justice across Australia detail other concerns, and recommendations for both the state and federal governments.
Together we’re demanding that both state and federal governments:
- change laws that unfairly affect Indigenous kids
- commit to closing the gap in detention rates
- end abuse in detention centres and
- fund more Indigenous-led programs that help kids.
“We’ll continue campaigning for a fairer go for Indigenous kids over the next four years, including meeting with politicians and policy-makers, partnering with Indigenous organisations and inspiring everyday people to make a difference,” says Rodney Dillon.