QLD: 17-year-olds to be moved out of adult prisons!

You have helped make history.

Since 1965, Queensland has treated 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. That’s all going to change — Indigenous Rights Campaigner Roxanne Moore explains how you helped make it happen.

What does it mean to have 17-year-olds in the adult justice system?

It means tougher penalties, less chance of rehabilitation, harsher prison conditions – the hopes, potential and dreams of these kids rotting away behind adult prison bars, sinking lower and lower into the quicksand of the justice system.

Amnesty’s campaign

Claire Mallinson launching our QLD youth justice report. © AI
Claire Mallinson launching our QLD youth justice report. © AI

Amnesty has been campaigning on the issue for many years, but in earnest since 2014. We published two reports on youth justice – a National report and a QLD-specific report – both of which recommended that 17-year-olds be removed from adult prisons.

This year we’ve put in about 10 submissions to government processes, as well as numerous emails and letters to politicians, lobbying meetings, meetings with MPs and activist events.

Gaining momentum

When we found out that the Youth Justice and Other Legislation (Inclusion of 17-year-old Persons) Amendment Bill 2016 would be up for debate in QLD, we quickly flew into action.

With a hung Parliament, nothing is ever a given. We knew LNP would vote ‘no’ as a block, and ALP would vote ‘yes’. That left the deciding vote to the cross-benchers: Katter Party members Robbie Katter MP and Shane Knuth MP, as well as independents Rob Pyne MP and Billy Gordon MP.

Activists hard at work.
Activists hard at work.

Tamara (our Government Relations Adviser), Andy (QLD Community Organiser) and I worked up a brief on the Bill to get out to our activists in Katter Party electorates – Charters Towers and Mount Isa. Andy got the activists calling their MPs. Rodney Dillon (also in the Indigenous Rights team) called a contact in Mt Isa – someone who we know Rob Katter counts on for advice. We only had a day before the vote.

The big day arrived and we were getting prepared for any scenario. Caroline, our Media and Public Relations Coordinator, along with Tamara and I were finessing the press release. “What do we do if the Bill fails?” asked Tamara, to which I responded, “Find me under my desk crying.” Tamara laughed but asked again, “No really, what will we do?”.

It was a difficult question. We had a few options up our sleeve. The pressure was on.

The debate raged for hours

Activists campaigning at the QLD Schools conference.
Activists campaigning at the QLD Schools conference.

There was, unsurprisingly, a lot of talk about Townsville, where “youth crime” is often front page news. Concerns were raised about the amount of money it would cost to transition the 17-year-olds in adult prison, and what that process would look like. The Government re-iterated its commitment to justice reinvestment. They thanked those campaigning on the issue for 20 years – Sisters Inside, Youth Advocacy Centre, Youth Affairs Network of Queensland – who were in the stands watching it unfold.

Amnesty got several mentions, as did the exposure of abuse at Don Dale, the 7:30 Report coverage of Cleveland Youth Detention Centre and the resulting Independent Youth Detention Review. Our very own Rodney Dillon got a mention by Billy Gordon:

“To quote my good friend Rodney Dillon, Amnesty Australia’s Indigenous rights adviser—

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 quick-sand of the justice system…”

In a nail-bitingly tight vote, Queensland Parliament passed the Bill by two votes. 17-year-old kids will no longer be locked up in harsh adult jails, and will now be treated as children in the justice system.

MP Robbie Katter from Mount Isa cast the deciding vote in the Bill’s favour.

One vote made all the difference

Without a doubt, we influenced that vote. And it’s thanks to all of you.

This is going to make a huge difference to the lives of many young people, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Thank you – our hardworking activists – from the bottom of my heart. This change happened because of you, and you should all be extremely proud.

Keep up the deadly work. Looking forward to kicking some more goals with you soon!

Yours in do-goodery,