Overcrowding in Queensland children's prisons becoming human rights crisis

In response to an incident at Brisbane Youth Detention Centre earlier this week, and reports of a teenage boy being held in Mount Isa Police Watchhouse for 11 days, Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights Adviser, Rodney Dillon, said:

“These incidents were a direct result of the overcrowding in Queensland’s youth prisons, which is creeping towards a human rights crisis.

“More than 80% of kids in prison are unsentenced. They haven’t been found guilty, they are waiting to be heard. While they remain in prison, they are being harmed by the system.

“Queensland has the highest rate of kids in remand of the whole country. It is a blight on the youth justice system. The Palaszczuk Government has made progress in many areas, but this is definitely not one of them. We know that a new youth justice strategy is due by the end of the year, but we don’t know when any changes will come and kids are struggling in overcrowded prisons now.

Indigenous children remanded for longer

“The situation among Indigenous children is even more heightened. Indigenous children in Queensland spent an average of 71 days in detention on remand, compared with 50 days for non-Indigenous children. That is more than two months, and a month-and-a-half respectively.

“The precedent on the treatment of incarcerated children has been clearly set. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says that children should be released from pre-trial detention “as soon as possible”. The Beijing Rules says that pre-detention should “only be used as a last resort”. The Human Rights Committee has said that “pre-trial detention of juveniles should be avoided to the fullest extent possible” and the Riyadh Guidelines provides a framework for preventative juvenile justice policies such as early intervention programs to support vulnerable families.

“Despite these strong guidelines, the Queensland Government continues to breach international standards.

“Just this week due to overcrowding we’ve had a disturbance in Brisbane, and a teenage boy locked in a watchhouse meant to be for ‘temporary holding’ and designed for adults – for nearly two weeks. These are not isolated incidents. There have been other reports of violent incidents, and even of children being forced to sleep on the floor. When will the government learn that their broken system is harming children?

“The obvious answer is to get kids on remand out of prison and back with their families, where safe to do so.

Stop locking up such young children

“Amnesty International Australia has also been calling on the Queensland Government to raise the age of criminal responsibility to fourteen. By doing this, the Queensland Government could move approximately 11% of the children out of prison and into early intervention and prevention programs that will get them back on track and help them lead happy, healthy lives.

“Children arrested before the age of 14 are three times more likely to commit offences as adults than children arrested after 14. By applying criminal penalties to young children we are trapping them in the justice system.

“Amnesty calls on the government to immediately raise the age that kids can be locked up to fourteen, and to move those currently in detention back to their families and into prevention programs in the community.

“We can’t continue to allow incidents like this, which are potentially harmful for both the children and the staff, to keep happening. The government must act now.