Almost twice as many children aged 10 to 17 are being locked up in youth detention for criminal offences in Queensland than anywhere else in Australia.
Children in Queensland are also twice as likely to be returned to court within 12 months of being sentenced to custodial or probation orders, according to data released this morning.
The Federal Government’s Productivity Commission ‘Report of Government Services 2023’ (RoGS) also shows that Queensland is the only place in Australia where a child is far more likely to be locked up in detention rather than placed on non-custodial community-based orders.
The RoGS report on the nation’s Youth Justice Services comes as the Queensland Government attempts to respond to a series of recent high-profile youth crimes.
Over the past month two boys have been charged with the Boxing Day stabbing murder of Brisbane northside mum Emma Lovell; two more were charged after discharging firearms at cars in Tara; and a 17-year-old allegedly murdered a 43-year-old man in the inner-Brisbane suburb of Wilston.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a number of law changes on 29 December in response to reported community outrage in response to Ms Lovell’s death and a so-called spike in youth crime.
While community debate continues on possible solutions, the Government has indicated that no legislative reform will be considered before Parliament resumes next month.
Data contained in today’s RoGS report reveals that an average of 267 children aged 10-17 were kept in detention in Queensland every day throughout 2021-22 – compared to NSW (147), Victoria (78), WA (92), South Australia (25), Tasmania (7) ACT (9) and Northern Territory (46).
However, it also shows courts were three times more likely to opt for community-based orders (920) over detention. Those numbers are down from 1269 in 2018-19.
And it also shows that more than half of young people (56.8%) aged 10-16 years sentenced by courts (2019-20) were returned to court on further crimes within 12 months.
Queensland also recorded the highest dependence on youth detention facilities – with the state’s 288 permanently state-funded custodial beds being filled by almost 275 children every night (2021-22) at a cost of $218 million to taxpayers – more than double the cost of the same detention-based services seven years ago ($99.5 million in 2014-15).
Ms Palaszczuk last month announced the Government’s intention to construct two new youth detention centres as part of her plan to “reduce offending and keep communities safe”.
Two weeks ago, QLS Proctor reported that children as young as 10 were among more than 460 kids detained in Queensland 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 of more than 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.
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.
As well as Youth Justice Services, the RoGS report contains detailed performance data regarding community services for aged care, people with disabilities and child protection.
The RoGS report, in its pre-amble on Youth Justice Services, says its aim it to promote community safety, rehabilitate and reintegrate young people who offend, and contribute to a reduction in youth re-offending.
See the RoGS Youth Justice Services data.