Jobs Events Advertise Newsletter

Queensland government urged to release children from police watch houses

Dechlan Brennan -

A justice coalition has thrown their weight behind proposed legal action against the Queensland government for failing to protect children in watch houses, and have called for all children from across the state to be released from the facilities.

This week Youth Advocacy Centre chief executive Katherine Hayes accused the government of lacking a plan to deal with the issue of overcrowding, sexual abuse and mistreatment of children as young as 11, threatening legal action.

Ms Hayes highlighted the incidents in the facilities, including, "sexual abuse by other child inmates, physical harm by guards and other children, and long-term harm to their mental health from being detained for long periods - up to 30 days - in small watchhouse cells with no fresh air or sunlight".

On Thursday, the National Network of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls (National Network) expressed their support for Ms Hayes and called for all children in watch houses across the state to be released.

"In light of recent revelations by Youth Advocacy Centre CEO, Katherine Hayes…it is evident that urgent intervention is needed to safeguard the rights and well-being of Queensland's children," a statement by the organisation, who represents "women, girls, feminine identifying and non-binary people" who have been impacted by the prison system, the Network said.

The National Network's Debbie Kilroy said the state has a duty of care for all its citizens.

"The fact that our children are being brutalised and harmed in the Queensland government's system is an abrogation of their responsibility to keep all of its citizens safe," Ms Kilroy said.

"As an organisation committed to freeing everyone from cages, the National Network urge the Queensland government to address these critical issues promptly and ensure the safety and well-being of all children in our state."

Katherine Hayes has accused the government of lacking a plan to deal with the issue of children in watch houses (Image: ABC News)

The housing of children in adult watch houses caused the government to suspend its own Human Rights Act, causing a backlash from legal and human rights advocates.

In March, the Child Death Review Board highlighted the case of two disabled, Aboriginal boys known to child services, who spent a combined 600 days in detention, the majority in separation (the government term for isolation or solitary confinement).

Both children died in the immediate aftermath of leaving the facility.

The government has promised to establish "clear and enforceable limits on separations" for kids behind bars.

In February, a 13-year-old boy was allegedly sexually assaulted in the Cairns watch house by an older boy, with police admitting they can't meet the expectations for young people whilst simultaneously dealing with adult prisoners.

There are claims, highlighted by Ms Hayes, of children as young as 13 in watch houses expressing suicidal thoughts.

The National Network's Tabitha Lean said the government's treatment of children was "nothing short of negligent."

"Given the disproportionate representation of First Nations children on remand and held in these cages should be deeply troubling to all of us and demands immediate attention from policymakers and stakeholders at all levels of government," Ms Lean said.

In response to the disbanded youth justice committee's calling for the government to implement alternative options for housing children with mental health conditions and/or disabilities so they can be properly diagnosed and supported, the government declined to guarantee this, only going so far as promise to "further explore alternative options" for those cohorts of children.

Queensland currently locks up more children than any other jurisdiction in Australia, and last year saw an average of 215 Indigenous children behind bars on any given night.

During a press conference on Wednesday, after the government caved to political pressure and announced they were getting rid of detention as a last resort for children - a human rights principle enshrined in international law - Ms Hayes told reporters 80 children were in the watch houses across Queensland on Tuesday - over half of them Indigenous.

Human Rights Law Centre managing lawyer Monique Hurley said the decision by the government was "inconsistent with international human rights standards and risks more children being locked away across Queensland."

"Children do not belong in police and prison cells," she said.

Other human rights groups have also slammed the decision - which came amidst political pressure from the opposition and victim's groups to a supposed youth wave crime - with Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS) chief executive Aimee McVeigh stating: "Really this is wannabe macho men having a fight over who can be the toughest, when actually what we need are some cool heads."

   Related   

Aboriginal actress set to pursue her dream at prestigious American Academy
Proud Ghungalu, Wadja, Birri, Widi/Wiri and Kaanju woman, Zhanae Dodd, has been...
Joseph Guenzler 20 May 2024
Indigenous Taiwanese delegation visit First Peoples' Assembly
A delegation of Indigenous Taiwanese representatives have visited the First Peop...
Dechlan Brennan 20 May 2024
Koorie Heritage Trust announce Naarm NAIDOC week program
The Koorie Heritage Trust has announced a range of programs for NAIDOC Week to c...
Dechlan Brennan 20 May 2024
Indigenous education peak body alliance welcomes federal commitment to community-controlled sector
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Corporation (NATSIE...
Giovanni Torre 20 May 2024

   Dechlan Brennan   

Indigenous Taiwanese delegation visit First Peoples' Assembly
A delegation of Indigenous Taiwanese representatives have visited the First Peop...
Dechlan Brennan 20 May 2024
Koorie Heritage Trust announce Naarm NAIDOC week program
The Koorie Heritage Trust has announced a range of programs for NAIDOC Week to c...
Dechlan Brennan 20 May 2024
Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) elections called for Saturday
The peak Indigenous legal organisation in New South Wales and the Australian Cap...
Dechlan Brennan 20 May 2024