Our Opinion

Beneath the numbers are the stories of children’s lives

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has recently released its annual Youth Justice in Australia 2017-18 report. Data presented in the report points towards not only what is going atrociously wrong in Queensland’s youth justice system that has led to the widely reported crisis of large numbers of children being detained in watchhouses, but also the solutions to this dire situation. Importantly, beneath the numbers and percentages blandly presented in the report, there are the stories of children’s lives screaming to be told, many of which made their way into Four Corners’ recent reporting on The Watch House Files: Queensland children kept in isolation in maximum security adult watch houses.

Elsewhere in this edition of eNews, we provide a detailed summary of the AIHW report. Just a few of the statistics about which we should be terribly alarmed include the following:

  • An extraordinarily high percentage – 87% – of Queensland children in detention during 2017-18 were on remand (i.e. they were not sentenced to detention by a court). The national percentage was 60%, dragged up by the high Queensland number.
  • Problems caused by the high number of Queensland children on remand were compounded by the length of their remand periods. Nationally, the length of remand periods ranged from a low of 33 days in South Australia to a high of 63 days in Queensland.
  • Gross over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in detention was apparent in all States and Territories, but Queensland was worse than elsewhere – 32 times the non-Indigenous rate in Queensland compared with 23 times the non-Indigenous rate nationally.

Importantly, the AIHW report also indicates that, with the exception of the Australian Capital Territory, the rate of young people subject to youth justice orders across the country has fallen. In Queensland, the rate fell from 31 to 27 per 10,000 children before rising to 30 per 10,000 in 2017-18 which can be attributed to the transfer of 17 year olds from the adult criminal justice system to youth justice in February 2018. This trend flies in the face of frequent beat-up messages of youth crime waves and underlines the very specific reasons for, and solutions to, Queensland’s current crisis concerning the detention of children in watchhouses.

No reasonable person can be unmoved by the starkly presented case studies that informed the Four Corners’ story. No reasonable person can be left not wondering why these children were remanded in custody, why these children were left languishing on remand for so long and in such inhumane conditions, or why, even without knowing the nature of their alleges offences, they were arrested and charged with offences in the first place when there are other options available to the Police.

In previous editions of eNews and our blogs, PeakCare has applauded the Palaszczuk Government’s investment in a range of youth justice reforms and we continue to do so. However, the Government’s admission that use of watchhouses to accommodate children on remand is likely to continue for several months until the impact of a number of these strategies take effect demands that some more immediate actions are taken on, at least, an interim basis.

PeakCare’s view is that it should not be left to the youth justice system alone to address these problems and it is never good policy to mis-use a system such as youth justice to address the shortfalls or failings of other systems with which it intersects, such as those responsible for policing; court administration, legal representation and advocacy; child protection and family support; youth mental health and disability support services; and youth housing, income support, education and vocational training – all of which have contributed to the problems now being faced and have obligations to now actively contribute to the solutions. PeakCare remains strongly committed to continuing to play our part in working with the Government on finding and implementing the best possible solutions and trust that all our Members share this commitment.

Express your commitment and state any opinions you may hold by leaving a comment below. Speak up!

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9 Comments

  1. Fotina Hardy on May 19, 2019 at 7:56 am

    I agree it is not acceptable that because of broader systemic failures children and young people are treated in this way we know many of the children and young people whose lives intersect with the justice system have experienced trauma, poverty, abuse, neglect, feeling marginalised and ostracised. We need to do something right now to prevent one mire child ending up in an adult criminal justice system and to address the situation holistically. Everyone has responsibility

  2. Must do better on May 19, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    The case studies are chilling. We have to do better.

  3. Anonymous on May 19, 2019 at 12:33 pm

    It will be important to not misdiagnose the problem. As you rightly point out, this is mostly about the high number of young people being remanded in custody and the excessive length of their remands. That’s what needs to be fixed as a matter of urgency.

  4. Wheels of justice on May 20, 2019 at 10:05 am

    We all know that the wheels of justice spin slowly, but for these children they have ground to a halt

  5. Anonymous on May 20, 2019 at 10:10 am

    This is a complex problem and you are right in saying that it can only be fixed by improving how well several systems intersect. Non-government organisations must also play their part in stopping the trajectory from child protection into youth justice. Unnecessary reporting of children to the Police by residential care providers must stop.

  6. Name withheld on May 20, 2019 at 4:08 pm

    It’s almost unbelievable that this is happening in Queensland. The Government must pull out all stops to rectify this as soon as possible.

  7. Stop it! on May 26, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    Once again, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are over-represented. This says less about the needs and behaviours of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander children and young people and more about the ways in which they are responded to by the systems they encounter. When will we learn to trust that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander know best about what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people and families need and put a stop to their discriminatory encounters with child protection, youth justice and other service systems?

  8. Namw withheld on May 26, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    It’s good that you highlighted that this is chiefly a problem caused by the extraordinary number of young people placed on remand in custody and the equally extraordinary length of their remand periods. Fix that and there will be no need for more, very expensive youth detention centres. That money can be far better spent.

  9. Anonymous on May 26, 2019 at 12:45 pm

    Surely children can be given prioritised listing by courts in dealing with both bail applications and the adjudication of their alleged offences

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