Officials admit QLD Watchhouses ‘a bit of a messy situation’

Just a day after the shocking Four Corners investigation into watch houses, Amnesty International Australia has uncovered documents from 2018 that show officials have been aware of the issues for some time, with a key member of the Watchhouse Response Team calling circumstances in the watch houses in Queensland “a bit of a messy situation”.

The documents, obtained through Freedom of Information, show correspondence between Leanne Beikoff, Manager Watchhouse Response Team and the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women (CSYW) stating that the Brisbane City Watch House was being used as a statewide overflow facility without “any discussion or planning re what we do with the young people once they get to Brisbane”.

Issues with complaint accountability

The documents also uncovered issues with complaints processes, with complaints being pushed between government officials. One incident saw the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women (CSYW) reject and close a complaint about the watch house as ‘a police matter’ with no action taken. Only after the Office of the Public Guardian re-submitted the complaint on the basis that the child was only in the watch house on the behest of CSYW was the complaint dealt with.

Other worrying information uncovered included:

  • A young boy sustaining a needle stick injury from a needle found in his mattress
  • Concerns over the continuing decline and withdrawal of supports available to the kids at Brisbane City Watch House
  • Transfers to the Brisbane Watch House from regional watch houses taking up to three days and requiring significant overtime and overnight accommodation
  • A young girl remaining in detention despite being bailed

Amnesty International first raised concerns about children being held in watch houses with the Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women Di Farmer, in June 2018. Further letters were sent in November 2018 and December 2018. In February 2019 Amnesty sent Minister Farmer a list of 2655 alleged human rights violations. No substantive response to these allegations has been received.

Rodney Dillon, Indigenous Rights Advisor at Amnesty International Australia said:

“These new documents show that people inside the system already knew it is broken, and yet the government continues to allow the inappropriate use of watch houses. Minister Farmer has known about many individual issues in Brisbane City Watch House as we’ve raised them with her on several occasions. Enough is enough. The time for talk is over, there must now be direct action on these issues. We can no longer stand by and watch as children are damaged by a broken system.

“Amnesty is calling on the Queensland Government to immediately improve youth justice by raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility, fixing the remand system and investing in Indigenous, community-led solutions that prevent kids entering the justice system and reduce repeat offending. There is no excuses to brush these issues under the carpet any more.”