With it having been revealed that Queensland is imprisoning more children than any other Australian State or Territory, it becomes clear that the approaches being taken to youth justice within our State are at a cross-roads.

The alarming rate at which Queensland children are held being held in custody was revealed in the State of Incarceration: Insights into Imprisonment in Queensland report released by the Justice Reform Initiative earlier this week. As detailed within the report, the number of incarcerated Queensland has grown by almost 30% over the past seven years and 90% of these children are in detention awaiting a court appearance. It seems that the wheels of justice turn very slowly for Queensland children! On average, 266 Queensland children are being held in detention each day at a cost of $688, 127 per child per year.

This damning report has been released in the midst of a flurry of media reports about:

  • Shocking practices in Western Australia’s Banksia Hill Youth Detention Centre involving the pinning down, cuffing and ‘folding up’ of children, as exposed by the ABC’s Four Corners program on 14th November
  • The stubborn refusal of State and Territory Governments (with the exception of the ACT) to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 despite, as revealed by the ABC, a majority of Attorneys-General from across the country agreeing ‘behind closed doors’ that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 14 without exception – an agreement reached in response to clear evidence presented within a ‘buried report’ that the detention of very young children “not only is unlikely to work, it is likely to make matters worse”
  • Calls by the National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollands for Federal Government intervention to form a national youth justice task force
  • A joint statement made by Commissioner Anne Hollands, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO, Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan, and Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay to have the age of criminal responsibility raised and for other actions to be taken to address the “systemic failures and chronic crisis” in youth justice
  • The return to high numbers of Queensland children being held overnight or longer in watchhouses –  with more than 6,200 children detained in watchhouses over the past year, with five as young as 10 kept for six hours and two detained overnight, and 210 children and young people aged between 13 and 17 detained in a watchhouse for more than a week
  • The release on 15th November of the Queensland Youth Reforms Review – Final Report (March 2022).

It seems very likely that news about youth justice will continue to gain momentum. We can fully expect that it will remain a highly charged and contentious issue and test the leadership of politicians of all persuasions from across the country. Queensland is not the only State facing these cross-roads. All State and Territory governments and the Federal government must now collaborate and be held to account for their performance in making decisions that may be unpopular with some, but are resolutely informed by research and the very clear evidence presented to them about the futility of detention as a response that meets the needs of either the children caught up in the youth justice system or communities that governments are meant to be protecting from crime.

If you have a view about the cross-roads being faced by Australian governments, please enter your comments here  anonymously if you prefer.