Queensland’s peak legal body has labelled the detention of children in police watchhouses as an absolute disgrace and called for an end to the practice.
Queensland Law Society President Bill Potts on Monday (May 13) said it was simply appalling that so many children, as young as 10, were being warehoused in adult watchhouse cells alongside seriously dangerous adult criminals, including sex offenders.
Mr Potts comments come in the wake of on-going reports as many as 70 children a night are being locked away in police holding cells and confined for weeks at a time while waiting for their matters to be dealt with by the courts.
“It is an absolute disgrace and simply outrageous to think that after this practice was ever allowed to happen in the first place, let alone be considered an on-going way of detaining any young child,’’ Mr Potts said.
“QLS is aware that overcrowding in watchhouses and remand centres has been a systemic problem for many years.
“The latest figures relating to children are symptomatic of a criminal justice system under immense operational strain. We know there are many reasons for this and there are no magic or simple solutions to the problem.
Mr Potts said there was no further need for another inquiry on the topic after the Atkinson Report on Youth Justice, released in July last year, had already identified and recommended 77 areas for reform – the majority of which propose strategies and programs for the diversions of children away from the courts and custody.
“QLS has strongly advocated for Youth Justice reforms for many years and, like the Atkinson Report, have placed an emphasis on the need to address myriad social issues that will prevent children from offending in the first place, rather than correct the situation after they’ve offended or have been detained,’’ he said.
“When children start their life, none of them aspire to be criminals. We know that a majority of juvenile offending is a part of much deeper and more complex set of problems in a young person’s life.
“We also know that petty crime and factors such as broken homes, abuse, social exclusion or disadvantage, mental health problems, disability, drug abuse, truancy and a lack of opportunities or hope are strongly connected.
“In many ways, rates of juvenile offending tell us that parts of our community are broken and need to be fixed.’’
Mr Potts conceded it would be irresponsible and an unacceptable risk of danger to the community if potentially dangerous young accused were simply released on bail purely due to the lack of adequate space in properly resourced child detention centres.
“However, it is totally appropriate that alternative facilities be considered such as properly staffed and supervised half-way houses or ‘youth bail houses’ which have proven successful in Townsville,’’ he said.
“Everyone wants young offenders to gain the skills and desire to be positive and contributing members of the community rather than falling between the cracks and becoming another member of the revolving door community of life long criminals.
“If we don’t start to tackle it now, when?”
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