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.
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