Maximum-security adult watch houses are being used to detain children as young as 10 in Queensland. The government claims that this is due to overcrowding and upgrades at juvenile facilities.
The majority of these children are Indigenous, another glaring example of how the system has failed Aboriginal Australians.
Children have been detained in these jails for as long as a month, where they are sometimes kept in close proximity to violent adult offenders, including murderers and paedophiles.
Also troubling is the fact that the vast majority of these children have not actually been convicted of a crime. They are held on remand typically awaiting court dates and other legal proceedings.
While most children are kept in cells with other inmates (often adults or other much older children), some have been subjected to solitary confinement for extended periods. They have also been dressed in humiliating anti-suicide clothing, without even the dignity of underwear.
The nature and length of this confinement is a serious breach of human rights. It is well known that this sort of treatment causes a decline in mental well-being and psychological health. This puts these children at risk of suicide and self-harm.
Conditions within these watch houses are traumatising enough for adults, let alone for children. It has been reported that many of the young detainees have already suffered, being victims of abuse and domestic violence. That they are now subjected to this sort of detention, as well as poor treatment from the police and corrections officers, is the real crime.
The government has failed to put forward any viable solutions to these problems. After a public backlash they merely say that they are increasing the capacity of youth detention centres, so that children won’t have to be held in adult watch houses.
Fundamentally, we need to address the underlying societal conditions that lead to youth incarceration. Far more effective that spending money on jails would be to invest in healthcare, education and training services, especially in Indigenous communities.
By Ben McIntyre