The number of children being kept in adult police watch houses in Queensland has jumped up over the last six months, according to new data released by the QLD Parliament.
On average at least 450 children aged between ten and 17 were detained in police watch houses in the state each month for the last six months – compared to an average of 109 between April and October last year.
At least two children were kept in an adult police watch house for more than seven nights, with one child spending 208 hours
Of the children being detained in QLD police watch houses this year, around 70 per cent were Indigenous and at least 856 of them were aged between ten and 13.
Greens MP Michael Berkman used a question on notice to obtain the latest figures from the Police and Corrective Services Minister Mark Ryan.
Mr Berkman called the numbers sickening and said the Government needs a long-term plan to fix this – one that deals with the root causes of offending.
He called on the QLD government to raise the age of criminal responsibility and invest money in social housing, disability and mental health programs and Indigenous-led community initiatives.
Gamilaraay woman and Commissioner for the Queensland Family and Child Commission Natalie Lewis, echoed Berkman’s sentiments and said children’s needs, need to be responded to with some compassion, with some care and with targeted support.
She said the QFCC is part of the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ANZCCG) which have repeatedly made public submissions in support of raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years, consistent with international standards.
“If we honestly believe that putting ten-year-olds, or twelve-year-olds into custody is somehow going to alleviate the trauma or the issues that they’ve been dealing with, we are absolutely fooling ourselves,” Ms Lewis said.
“It’s cruel, it’s unnecessary, and I think as a system we not only can do better, but we must.”
Lewis said the rise in numbers coincide with recent changes to Youth Justice Legislation in QLD, which includes increased police powers and reversing the presumption of bail for serious indictable offences.
“Bringing in those punitive responses – it’s a consequence that’s pretty easy to predict – that’s going to result in more children and young people coming to the attention of the youth justice system, more young people being held in watch houses, and increases in the rates of kids on remand in detention centres,” she said.
Continuing with this tough on crime rhetoric is not in any one’s best interest, “we need to be honest, it’s tough on crime but very weak on outcomes and it’s about time we made some difficult decisions.”
Commissioner Lewis said, “the issues that exist need to be focused on in a preventative way, we need to look at initiatives like justice reinvestment, we need to look at structural racism – the cultural bias that exists within the systems that [First Nations] kids interact with.”
“It’s well documented, it’s over researched but yet one of the key things that has failed to be addressed as a result of any program of reforms.”