Children as young as 10 were among the more than 460 kids detained in Queensland police watch houses for periods of five to 14 days, despite an overall drop in youth crime in 2021-22.
Childrens Court President Deborah Richards has revealed in the court’s recently tabled annual report that an average above 460 children were involved in the 7001 admissions of young people into police watch houses – designed specifically for detaining adults – across the 12-month period.
Of those admissions, 166 children spent an average of eight to 14 days in a police watch house, while a further 305 were held for periods of five to seven days.
Judge Richards, in her forward to the report tabled in Queensland Parliament on 16 December (2022), noted that the number of young people to appear before courts had decreased by 8.2%, from 7382 to 6773.
However, Judge Richards noted there had been a “significant increase” in young people being held in youth detention and police watch houses – with many spending on average 43 days in detention while waiting on courts to resolve their matters.
“There was a significant increase in young people being held in youth detention in the last 12 months, from 229 in 2020-2021 to 275 in 2021-22,” she said. “Young males accounted for between 86 and 90 percent of young people in detention on average in any given period.
“The average daily number of young people in youth detention that were not sentenced increased substantially to 238 per day from 202 the previous year. This is unsurprising given the changes to the Act in relation to bail for young people and the show cause provisions.
“Young people spend on average 43 nights unsentenced as opposed to 36 nights in the previous year. In relation to finalised appearances at which detention was ordered, 45 percent of appearances resulted in the young offender being released from Court following sentence with no time remaining to serve in custody and the offender in 26 percent of the cases was not required to serve a supervised release order.”
Judge Richards’ report was tabled less than two weeks before the Government unexpectedly announced changes to youth justice laws in response to public outrage sparked by murder of a North Lakes mother and the stabbing of her husband on Boxing Day, allegedly at the hands of juvenile offenders.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the proposed youth justice law changes on 29 December by saying the community had been heard. “My government is listening and we are acting,” she said.
The proposed suite of reforms and draft Bill are expected to be considered by Parliament as soon as next month.
Other remarkable features in Judge Richards’ report show that the vast majority of victims of youth offending are themselves young children.
“In relation to victims of child offenders, half of all victims were younger than 20 years of age with those aged 10 to 14 accounting for 48 percent of that group,” she said.
“Victims aged 50 and over comprise 11 percent of all victims.”
Judge Richards also made special mention of the “disturbingly familiar” over-representation of First Nations children subjected to the youth justice system.
“First Nations young people continue to be substantially overrepresented in the younger age groups with 86 percent in the 10-11 age group, 81 percent in the 12-year-old group, 65 percent in the 13-year-old group and 58 percent in the 14-year-old group.
“The statistics show that they are 11.5 times more likely to have a proven charge finalised in a Queensland Court in the last 12 months and that rate is increasing.
“In terms of penalties, they are 18.7 times as likely as other young people to commence a supervised order and again this is increasing.
“They are over 21.4 times as likely as other young people to have been in youth detention in 2021-2022 although this rate has decreased since 2018-2019.”
Judge Richards was first appointed a judge of the Queensland District Court on 26 November 1998 and has served as Children Court of Queensland President since 1 January 2019 after the retirement of former President Judge Michael Shanahan.
She also recently served as the commissioner to head up an independent inquiry to examine Queensland Police Service responses to domestic and family violence.