Watchhouse no place for a child: report

Childrens Court President Deborah Richards has echoed calls to end the detention of children in watchhouses, with the tabling of the court’s Annual Report 2022-23 in Parliament on Thursday.

Judge Richards said the number of children on remand either held in watchhouses or kept separate from the general population in detention was a “significant concern”, with the average daily number of young people on remand in youth detention rising from 170 two years ago to 249 this year.

She said of the 8119 children who spent time in police watchhouses and stations in 2022-23, most spent one day or less in the watchhouse, but almost 1000 spent five or more days, and 156 of those spent 15 days or more.

Childrens Court President Deborah Richards.

“Watchhouses are not made to house children,” she said.

“They do not have capacity to allow exercise, family visits or programmes to operate.

“While time spent in the watchhouse is difficult for young children, many of whom have significant mental health issues, time in the watchhouse is not the only concern.

“The staffing levels at detention centres, particularly at Cleveland Youth Detention Centre are such that a child remanded in detention can spend significant periods of time locked in his or her cell because the ratio of staff to children is below the level set in the certified Industrial Agreement between the department and the unions representing staff at the centre.”

Judge Richards pointed to a case where a child had been locked in their cell for an average 21 hours and 23 minutes a day at that centre during a three-week stay.

“It is accepted that the department is endeavouring to recruit new employees, nonetheless it remains of concern that children in detention may be held in solitary confinement for significant periods of time,”  she said.

Justice Richards said the Strengthening Community Safety Act 2023 (Qld) had resulted in more children in detention on remand, but had not yet resulted in less offending.

She also said a concerning trend was emerging in domestic and family violence, with applications for domestic violence orders involving young people as defendants rising from 328 in 2019-20 to 424 in 2022-23, and breaches from 159 to 364.

Read the annual report here.

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