There are immediate solutions available to remove children from watch houses

As of 10.30 yesterday morning, there were 79 children in watch houses across Queensland. These children were as young as 10.

Queensland Public Guardian Natalie Siegel-Brown has been strongly advocating for the removal of children from watch houses for over 14 months, continuingly highlighting how the conditions violate their basic human rights.

“I have visited the Brisbane watch house, and seen with my own eyes children who are cold, who are hungry, who haven’t accessed any real outdoor air for two weeks or more, and who have little or no access to education. Some are being held in these conditions for weeks at a time.” Ms Siegel-Brown said.

Ms Siegel-Brown acknowledges that the issues giving rise to this situation are complex, but states that we cannot wait any longer to take action.

“There are solutions available right now, which I have already recommended to Government.

The solutions that would provide immediate change include:

  • Temporary, immediate accommodation at youth detention centres. While temporary structures are certainly not ideal, anything has to be better than the travesty of holding kids in the conditions of a watch house.
  • Transporting kids from the watch house each day to and from Brisbane Youth Detention centre, where they can at least access fresh air, proper health care, appropriate education and psychological support.

“At very least, we need to regulate how kids are managed in a watch house – so that they have the same human rights as kids under youth justice legislation. This means rules around using isolation, access to family and all the basics that we require in a youth detention centre.” Ms Siegel-Brown said.

“Remember, these are children as young as 10 or 11. Almost none have been convicted of a crime – they are simply on remand. Many of them have no place to be bailed because they are homeless – or because we as a society have failed to take care of our children.”

“In many cases their charges are minor. I am seeing children being held in watch houses for days for crimes as small as shoplifting. Many are facing charges for what could only be called survival crimes.” Ms Siegel-Brown said.

“I do know that many communities are impacted by youth crime. However as a society we need to acknowledge and tackle the issues facing many of these children. Labelling these kids as criminals only makes a crime of their trauma, of their disability, of their suffering.”

“But we have to ask ourselves: How can any crime ever justify holding a child in these conditions?”

“We also need to look beyond recriminations and navel gazing and focus on the immediate restoration of these children’s human rights. Because no child should ever be held in a watch house. Period.”

ENDS

Office of the Public Guardian media contact: (07) 3738 9457 or commed@publicguardian.qld.gov.au

NOTES:

  • Queensland’s Public Guardian advocates for the human rights of vulnerable Queenslanders.
  • OPG’s Community Visitors (CVs) visit children in the child protection system and at visitable sites. Visitable sites include youth detention centres, adult correctional centres (visiting 17 year olds), and Brisbane watch house.
  • The focus of the Community Visitor team is human rights protection and advocacy, and overseeing that the human rights of the children and young people they visit are being advanced.
  • Community Visitors ensure systems are held accountable and are a critical safeguard to ensuring the child or young person’s needs are being met appropriately.
  • Community Visitors visit children in detention to independently monitor their safety and wellbeing, and the standard of care provided.
  • It was identified very quickly that a watch house environment is not conducive to the safety and psychological wellbeing of children, and violates their fundamental human rights.