A north-west Queensland magistrate continues to expose the dire plight of First Nations youth offenders in the region – this time a case involving a boy kept in a police watch house for 10 days.
Mt Isa Childrens Court magistrate Eion Mac Giolla Ri this week released details of how a 17-year-old boy – given the pseudonym David Taylor – spent 36 nights in pre-sentence custody, with 26 of those “confined to his cell for 21+ hours a day” in a North Queensland youth detention centre.
Mr Mac Giollla Ri said the detention of children for more than one night in a police watch house should only occur in extraordinary circumstances – but in David’s case he was kept in one for 10 days and remained there despite his mother (his primary carer) being hospitalised after a heart attack.
In a separate case, Mr Mac Giolla Ri last week granted bail to a 15-year-old Indigenous boy after it was revealed he had been held in the same Mt Isa watch house for 15 days.
The two cases are the latest in a growing list involving children being held in police watchhouses or youth detention centres before being sentenced for any alleged offending.
It comes as the federal Productivity Commission on Tuesday released data showing twice as many children aged 10 to 17 were 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.
The Productivity Commission ‘Report of Government Services 2023’ 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.
Youth justice continues to be one of the most publicly debated topics as the Government attempts to respond to a series of recent high-profile youth crimes.
However, the treatment of youth offenders – predominantly First Nations children – in north and north-west Queensland has been repeatedly exposed in detailed sentencing remarks from Mr Mac Giolla Ri published over the past 12 months.
In February last year, Mr Mac Giolla Ri described the conditions in which a disabled 16-year-old boy were kept in Townsville’s Cleveland Youth Detention Centre (CYDC) as “falling short” of the “bare minimum… acceptable in a civilised society”.
The boy, given the pseudonym Leo, was kept in detention for 21 days confined to his cell for 24 hours a day as a result of “continuous cell occupancy” or the centre being placed into “night mode” as a result of staff shortages.
“Leo was remanded in custody on 4 January 2022 and must have spent at least some time in the (local police) watch house because he didn’t arrive at (CYDC) Centre until the 12th of January,” he said.
In the David Taylor case, Mr Mac Giolla Ri said: “David had served the 36 days either in the Mount Isa watch house or confined in his cell for 21+ hours per day at (CYDC) in Townsville.
“David spent 10 days in Mount Isa watch house. The detention of children for more than one night in a watchhouse should only occur in extraordinary circumstances… (and) is clearly much more onerous than imprisonment in a detention centre.
“While David was still imprisoned in the watch house, his mother, his primary carer, suffered a heart attack and was hospitalised for an extended period.”
The court was told that, upon being transferred to the CYDC, David was then placed in ‘separation’ and isolated in a cell for more than 21 hours a day.
“Separation is a euphemism used in the youth detention system for time a child must stay in his or her cell over and above the 12 hours the child spends in their cell at night,” Mr Mac Giolla Ri said.
“David had spent … 26 days at (CYDC). The amount of time David was locked in his cell varied from day to day.
“For example, on Christmas Eve, David was locked in his cell for 23 hours and 50 minutes. On Christmas Day, David was locked in his cell for 20 hours and 40 minutes.
“On average, David was locked in his cell, for 21 hours and 23 minutes per day or, to put it another way, David was only out of his cell for two hours and 37 minutes instead of the expected 12 hours per day.”
Due to numerous mitigating factors, David was sentenced and immediately released on 10 January, having pleaded guilty to 11 theft and property offences – in particular entering dwellings and stealing car keys to unlawfully use vehicles.
Mr Mac Giolla Ri sentenced David to 51 days’ detention, but said the time already served was more than adequate given “the overall circumstances of David’s detention were extremely onerous and well beyond how a child should ordinarily be expected to serve detention”.
Read the decision.