Judge reveals overcrowded youth detention forcing spillover into police lock-ups



December 11, 2018 16:08:39

Children as young as 11 are being locked up in police watch houses for more than a fortnight as a last resort, as Queensland’s youth detention centres struggle with overcrowding, a report has revealed.

Key points:

  • Judge Michael Shanahan says locking up children in police watch houses is a “travesty”
  • State Government overhauling youth justice to keep children out of detention
  • Currently 80 per cent of kids locked up will reoffend

The head of the Children’s Court of Queensland, Judge Michael Shanahan, delivered a scathing attack on the Government policy that allowed more than 1,000 kids to be housed in police cells over the past six months.

In his annual report, Judge Shanahan branded the move “unacceptable”.

“To have children as young as 11 being held in police watch houses is a travesty and a burden on the police service,” he said.

“The figures indicate a large number of children, some as young as 11, being held in watch houses across the state.”

State Government figures show 1,267 children had been held in police cells since February, with a handful of cases left there for more than 15 days.

The majority of children were being held on remand, meaning they were awaiting court appearances, trials or sentencing and thus had not been found guilty of any crime.

Young people in court-ordered custody in watch houses February to June 2018, by age:

Age February March April May June
11 1 4 3 3 3
12 4 7 7 9 8
13 9 16 19 19 13
14 16 27 37 31 21
15 14 33 36 40 25
16 12 42 38 42 34
17 11 27 24 29 30
18 3 1 1 1
Total 70 157 165 173 135

Source: Youth Justice Performance and Reporting, Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women.

Most kids who land in detention will reoffend

The savage critique of the policy coincided with the Government’s new plan to overhaul the youth justice system.

Child Safety Minister Di Farmer said under that plan, detention would be a last resort.

“If we keep on doing the same things that we’ve been doing in youth justice year after year, then we cannot expect the results to be any different,” Ms Farmer said.

“We need to do the things that work and that’s why we are outlining a new way forward for youth justice.”

To reduce the numbers of children going into the state’s two youth detention centres, more offenders would be forced to face their victims as punishment for their crimes.

Ms Farmer said a trial of the model had delivered promising results.

“They show that 79 per cent of the young people who take part in that program have either not reoffended within six months or they have reduced the magnitude of their offending,” she said.

“So that’s something that works.”

Other diversionary programs run by community groups would also be considered before sending a child to jail.

The new policy was shaped by former Queensland police commissioner Bob Atkinson, who said it was the best option to reduce recidivism rates.

“If children go into detention, either on remand or sentenced, there’s a very high likelihood, around 80 per cent, that they’ll reoffend and end up back in detention,” he said.

“And my view, for what it’s worth, is when they become adults they’ll graduate into the adult prison system as well … we need to do all we can to prevent that happening in the first place.

“It’s not in any way in my view about being soft, it’s about being sensible and applying strategies that will work.”









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