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New Queensland 'community safety plan' wont make community safer, advocates warn

Dechlan Brennan -

A new $1.28 billion 'community safety plan' announced by the Queensland government won't make the state any safer according to advocates, who argue continually investing in prisons and policing is a "short-sighted and politicised" approach to justice.

On Tuesday, the Queensland government announced a raft of measures, including "improved" access to children's court proceedings for victims, victims' families and the media; the expansion of an electronic monitoring trial that fits GPS trackers to offenders; and allowing officers to search people for weapons on public transport and in nightclub precincts - without reasonable suspicion - using a metal detection wand.

Police Minister Mark Ryan said it was a "comprehensive plan to further enhance community safety".

He said operations, including the "high visibility" Operation Whiskey Unison, would continue, arguing they "have produced encouraging results in reducing crime in many regions across the state".

National Indigenous Times revealed in April that more than 1100 children and young people have been arrested and charged in Queensland through new youth bail laws in the last year — 916 from Operation Whiskey Unison.

The government will also roll out 900 additional police officers, new tasers, and a police helicopter.

The Justice Reform Initiative (JRI), who have argued against the expansion of prisons in jurisdictions across Australia, instead calling for restorative options to focus on crime at its source.

Executive Director Dr Mindy Sotiri said the plan released by the state government "fails to engage with the evidence about what actually works to build community safety in the long term".

"We know that we cannot incarcerate or police our way to a safer community," she said.

Victims advocate Trudy Reading told AAP that detention as a last resort should be removed from the Youth Justice Act to prioritise the rights of victims over recidivist young offenders, stating: "Remove them from society, assess them and rehabilitate them - that's what we're asking for."

This has been prioritised by opposition leader David Crisafulli if the LNP wins the upcoming election, despite it being enshrined in international law, as well as in the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Australia ratified in 1990.

An interim draft report on youth justice in Queensland said evidence around removing detention as a last resort is unclear, stating other measures are likely more effective.

"Instead of pumping more funds into police and detention centres, Queensland's politicians need to invest meaningfully in evidence-based interventions that actually will make a difference," Dr Sotiri said.

Youth crime has been a major focus in Queensland, which locks up more children than any other state. It's seen an 11 per cent increase on the number of First Nations children being detained on an average night, with 215 Indigenous children housed in detention on average day in 2022-23.

JRI's Aysha Kerr was highly critical of these numbers, noting in March that they were a result of "short-sighted, kneejerk policy reactiveness," which ended up funnelling children into prisons "instead of into programs that address the drivers of contact with the justice system".

Queensland's Family and Child Commission commissioner Natalie Lewis previously told National Indigenous Times: "Detention has been proven to have harmful impacts on children and young people."

Dr Sotiri said the government's focus on "building new prisons, increasing police, and expanding the scope of measures like electronic monitoring" are short-sighted which aren't rooted in evidence surrounding community safety.

"The evidence in fact shows us that increasing the numbers of people in contact with the justice system, will also increase the numbers of people who become entrenched in a cycle of incarceration and re-offending," she said.

A new high-security men's "mega jail" outside Gatton is in the final stages of construction and is expected to open at the end of the year, whilst a new 80 bed youth detention facility at Woodford is expected to be completed by 2026.

"Locking up children is already costing Queensland taxpayers over $218 million per year, while a new 80-bed youth detention centre to cater for the overflow will cost more than $600 million in building costs alone," Dr Sotiri said.

Guardian Australia reported further measures - including introducing laws to bus children between police watch houses and youth detention centres in order for them to receive exercise, access rehabilitation services and school programs - will be announced by the government on Wednesday.

It was reported the only watch house in the state where children received schooling by department of education staff was Caboolture.

In March, a horrific report highlighted the toll of detention on children, with two disabled, Aboriginal boys dying in the immediate aftermath of their time spent in detention — the majority of which was in separation.

Queensland's Youth Justice Minister Di Farmer said on Tuesday: "We will continue working with parents to get kids on the right path and ensure we always support victims."

With increased police funding and prisons, this direction has only drawn the ire of groups like JRI. Dr Sotiri said the community is needed its leaders to "navigate the evidence".

"We join the community sector in urging politicians on all sides to put the politics aside and commit to following the evidence about what works to genuinely build safer Queensland communities for everyone," she said.

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