Raise the Age

Scrapping of bailhouses latest retrograde step in QLD youth justice reform

Amnesty International Australia has serious concerns about the Queensland Government’s decision to scrap bailhouses as the latest in a rollback of youth justice reforms.

Following a Right To Information request in 2018, Amnesty International uncovered serious breaches of international law, which resulted in the Queensland Government introducing bailhouses as well as establishing a youth justice department. Both of these initiatives have now been scrapped.

Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights Advisor Rodney Dillon said scrapping of bailhouses, and the fact that children are still being kept in watchhouses, shows just how urgent the need is for fundamental law reform.

“Without bailhouses, watchhouses will continue to be used as a stop-gap to compensate for an at-capacity youth prison system and Queensland’s notoriously backlogged Children’s Court.

“We know that these are no places for kids as young as 10, being managed by police without the necessary training and skills to deal with children,” Dillon said.

The Queensland government has cited a reoffending rate of 85% as a reason for bail houses to close.

“If the government is saying that bail houses have failed, it’s because they set them up to fail in the first place. Bail accommodation needs to have a therapeutic approach to find out why a child might be offending, and addressing those issues.

“The Queensland bail houses were just a mini-prison – an ill-thought out plan that was always likely to fail. The government now has the opportunity to learn lessons from this and come back with a therapeutic approach that works,” he said.

Eleven children stayed in a police watch house for more than 15 days during the 2019-20 year, according to new data published by the Childrens Court of Queensland.

“It is absolutely mind-blowing to think that the government is still holding children in watch houses for longer than two weeks—they shouldn’t even be in there overnight.

“The new Minister has to make it her priority to address this as soon as possible.

“As we saw in the disturbing video from the Northern Territory this week, there is mounting evidence that police are not the right people to be dealing with young offenders with complex needs.

“It’s really time that all State and Territory governments listened to the experts and raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.

“There are already very successful Indigenous-led diversion programs which are far more effective in dealing with youth offending than the quicksand of the youth justice system. We as a country have to do better by Indigenous kids.”