A man and a woman hold a yellox box with a sign on it reading: 17,838 people signed to get kids out of watch houses

Good News: Queensland to better protect kids in the justice system

After thousands of human rights supporters spoke out, the Queensland Parliament has now reformed the Youth Justice Act to ensure that children spend as little time as possible in detention centres and harmful police watch houses.

On 22 August Queensland’s Parliament debated and passed Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. In passing the bill, the Queensland Government has committed to ensuring that children are no longer held in harmful police watch houses for prolonged periods and will only be imprisoned by courts as a last resort.

This new law means that:

  • magistrates can only use detention as a last resort for young people
  • children must face court within 24 hours of being arrested
  • It is now easier to ‘bail’ children into safe and supportive environments.

What was happening in Queensland’s police watch houses?

Amnesty International had researched and documented more than 2,500 human rights violations occurring in the Brisbane City Watch House. This included:

  • Children being illegally held in watch houses for days, weeks and months
  • Staff isolating kids to punish them
  • Children being held alongside adults
  • Staff not providing children with adequate clothes, personal hygiene products, health and medical health care or access to adequate education.

Amnesty and other organisations raised our concerns repeatedly with the Queensland Government. Then in May, ABC Four Corners exposed the abuse of kids in Brisbane City Watch House for all Australians to see.

How did Amnesty respond?

With the issue now firmly in the national media spotlight, Amnesty supporters, community advocates, like-minded organisations and Indigenous families all came together to demand the government act to get kids out of watch houses.

Families and communities courageously shared their stories of abuse and called out the shameful practice of keeping kids in police watch houses.

Amnesty International supporters called, emailed and met with Queensland politicians to place pressure on the Queensland Government to address these violations. More than 17,000 people signed an Amnesty petition to get kids out of watch houses, and over 2,500 people emailed and called the Minister.

Our collective pressure led to the Queensland government acting. On 17 July the Queensland Government announced that there were no children being held in Brisbane City Watch House.

Now, Queensland’s law changes will help ensure that children no longer face human rights abuses in police watch houses.

“This is a win for all the young people and their families who have suffered through a broken system. The government can’t take back that suffering, but they can make sure it never happens again.

Joel Clark, Indigenous Rights Advocate at Amnesty International

What’s next?

Amnesty International Australia will continue to monitor the situation in watch houses across Queensland to ensure that this legislation is keeping kids out of harmful conditions.

We will now use the momentum from Queensland’s law changes to focus attention on another issue affecting children: Australian governments choosing to lock up 10-13 year old children, rather than supporting alternatives to prison such as tested community programs.

Children under 14 who are detained are more likely to repeat offend than if they had never been imprisoned. It is also significantly affects Indigenous children who continue to be woefully over-represented in the justice system.

Prison is simply no place for kids this young – it’s unhelpful, harmful and way behind the global standard. Governments must stop locking up 10-13 year old children and instead support community-led solutions that support kids to thrive.

If governments act to ensure 10-13 year-olds are not locked up, it will go a long way in ensuring children aren’t caught in the quicksand of the system in the first place.