The urgent decision by Queensland to modify regulations enabling the illegal prolonged detention of children in watch houses came after advice from the state’s attorney general stating that young people may have been illegally kept for years. These laws currently allow for the indefinite custody of children.
On Wednesday, the Palaszczuk government said that it will be introducing legislation to allow minors to be detained in adult jails and watch homes “even if it would not be compatible with human rights.” This move came after the state’s Human Rights Act was suspended by the government.
The emergency measure, which was approved on Thursday, was tacked onto the end of a law that was unconnected to it, along with a list of additional revisions that were spread out over 57 pages of text.
After a case was brought before the Supreme Court earlier this month contending that the prolonged incarceration of three children in police watch homes for extended periods of time was in violation of their constitutional rights, the Minister for Youth Justice, Di Farmer, stated to the media that the government had received advice from the Solicitor General over the weekend.
After the government was unable to produce the requisite court orders, the court did order that the three youngsters be transferred out of the watch homes as quickly as possible, but it did not address the question of whether or not the larger system was legitimate.
On the other hand, Bob Gee, the director general of the department of youth justice, disclosed on Thursday that the solicitor general had subsequently warned the government that their reading of the Youth Justice Act throughout the course of the previous 30 years was “likely incorrect.”
Children who have been remanded in police custody are required to be transferred to adolescent detention “as soon as practicable,” according to the act. On the other hand, for at least the past few years, children have been kept for longer periods of time, in some instances for as long as forty days. The primary reason for this is the overcrowding that exists within youth prisons.
Farmer stated that it was “highly likely that every single young person would have been transferred immediately from the watch house to the youth detention center” in the event that a further legal challenge was made.
In the beginning of this year, a magistrate in the state of Queensland voiced worry over the fact that children were being detained in watch homes where “adult detainees are often drunk, abusive, psychotic, or suicidal.”
Concerns that have been documented include a shortage of facilities that are suitable for females, as well as a lack of access to showers, clean clothes, and sunlight.
A watch house employee who blew the whistle in February told Australia that he had seen “illegal” strip-searches of youngsters and a kid being placed in a cell with adult males. He also said that he had seen a girl placed in a cell with adult men.
Farmer stated that there were more children in youth detention centers than there ever had been before as a direct result of the “strong laws” that were enacted by the state government this year. One of these “strong laws” included making it an offense for children to breach their bail conditions.
When asked if the government was establishing a “dangerous precedent” by superseding the state’s Human Rights Act, Farmer responded that the government was putting an emphasis on the safety of the community.
According to the minister, the problem had not been treated “lightly” by the administration at any point.
“No government wishes to override the Human Rights Act,” Farmer stated. “What we were doing this week was on the very clear advice of the solicitor general to address what would have been a high-risk issue for young people [by forcing them into overcrowded] detention centers,” the statement reads. “We were doing this on the basis of the very clear advice of the solicitor general.”
During the course of the discussion, the shadow minister for police, Dale Last, expressed his opinion that the manner in which the amendment had been “buried in a child protection bill” was “nothing short of a disgrace.”
Michael Berkman, a member of Parliament for the Green Party, stated that the “disregard for democracy” shown by the government was “extraordinarily” sad. “I think the government has sunk to a new low,” he said in front of parliament.
Robbie Katter, the leader of the Katter’s Australian Party, made the statement that the government had “set a precedent” by hurriedly passing legislation without consulting with stakeholders.
However, the minister in charge of the police force, Mark Ryan, has come out in defense of the modification, saying that it corrects a “technical error” and ensures “community safety.”
Jonty Bush, a member of Parliament for the Labor Party, admitted that “children do not belong in watch houses,” but he also stated that “there is a worse place you can visit a child, and that is in a morgue.”
The revisions have been denounced by a coalition of organizations that provide social services because, according to the alliance, they would not make the state of Queensland any safer and will only do harm to poor and vulnerable children.
If children as young as 10 can be imprisoned indefinitely in “what are essentially concrete boxes,” then, according to Scott McDougall, the state’s human rights commissioner, “there are farm animals with better legal protections in Queensland than children.”
Aimee McVeigh, CEO of Queensland Council of Social Services, stated that residents of Queensland should not be forced to choose between “the legal rights of children” and the safety of their communities.
She stated that “as a sophisticated society, we should be able to do both,” and I paraphrase what she said. “The evidence that we have shows that the younger a child is when they are detained, the greater the likelihood that they will go on to commit additional offenses,” It is not appropriate to deploy watch houses as a solution.”