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Debbie Kilroy slams Queensland's expansion of youth detention, and calls for community solutions

Joseph Guenzler -

Queensland Premier Steven Miles and Youth Justice Minister Di Farmer initiated the construction of a new 80-bed youth detention centre in Woodford on Tuesday.

The facility is part of the government's commitment to deliver three new centers.

Lead contractor BESIX Watpac (QLD) Pty Ltd has been assigned for the initial design and construction phase.

On Tuesday, the sod was turned to commence enabling works, aiming for the center's completion by 2026.

Despite the recent push against building more detention centres for children, and calls for alternative solutions to youth offending, the state government remains steadfast in their plans.

Many anti-prison initiates have been suggested by groups including The Justice Reform Initiative and Sisters Inside, advocating for funds to be diverted into youth programs, education and rebuilding within the affected communities.

Latest statistics show the rate of incarceration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in Queensland is 153.3 per 10,000, compared to 7.5 per 10,000 for non-Indigenous young people.

Many come from difficult backgrounds, suffering from trauma, abuse and mental and/or behavioural issues.

One-third of the children who have been targeted by the youth-crime crackdown are under child protection orders.

Queensland locks up more youth per capita than any other state or territory.

Debbie Kilroy, advocate and CEO of Sisters Inside, told National Indigenous Times: "Corporations continue to prop up bad policy - which is building more prisons for children, so we need to hold those corporations to account."

"We live in a racial capitalist world, like you see in the press release they have x amount of jobs available, so it's just an employment strategy and the children are the fodder of that," she said.

"I was one of those children 50 years ago as a 13-year-old, locked up in a cage, and they're not doing anything different, they've just expanded."

She advocates for community empowerment, arguing that a fundamental shift is needed to prevent children from facing incarceration.

"We need to build our communities up so no child goes into a cage, no child is violated," Ms Kilroy said.

"That means were looking at a very different community than the one we have now."

Ms Kilroy challenges government priorities, urging a reallocation of funds from policing and prisons to community programs, aiming to counteract racial profiling of children by law enforcement.

"Governments say they want children to be not be caged, well, put your money where your mouth is. The money that you give policing and prison, our communities want three-times that amount," she said.

"So we can start changing and re-imaging our communities and get the resources we require so our children aren't racially profiled by police."

Anticipating future consequences, she suggests that the current approach in Queensland will be scrutinised with an inquiry 10-15 years from now, as those children fall victim to a system that relies on them becoming apart of it once they reach adulthood.

"What's happening here in Queensland will be no doubt evidence for an inquiry in 10-15 years."

Ms Kilroy's overarching message is a call for dismantling existing systems in favor of constructive change.

"It's not that they aren't listening or know what they're doing - we just need to dismantle it," she said.

In addition to the Woodford project, the government is advancing the construction of a facility near Cairns and a youth remand facility at Wacol.

The upcoming Youth Detention Centre in Woodford, along with the planned 40-bed facility near Cairns set to be operational in 2027, is projected to contribute an additional 120 beds to the state's youth detention capacity.

This expansion means that by 2026, the government will have nearly doubled the number of youth detention beds since assuming office in 2015.

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