17-year-old’s will be removed from prisons across Queensland within 12 months, under a plan by the State Government.
The Palaszczuk Government wants to bring the state into line with other Australian states and territories, by introducing a Bill into Parliament next week.
There are about 50 17-year-olds in adult correctional facilities in Queensland.
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There are currently about 150 young people accommodated in Queensland’s two youth detention centres.
There are also about 200 17-year-olds under Corrective Services supervision who would transfer to the youth justice system, with youth justice case workers assuming responsibility for their community-based orders.
Premier Palaszczuk said the decision to move 17-year-olds to youth justice would require a whole of government response.
“Tackling this problem won’t just involve Corrective Service and Justice, but Police, Education, Health, Housing, Communities and the Department Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships as a bare starting point,” she said.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child considers a person as a child until the age of 18.
Police and Corrective Services Minister Bill Byrne said Queensland Corrective Services would implement the transition of 17-year-olds from adult prisons to youth detention.
Premier Palaszczuk said the move would tackle a number of complex issues that successive previous governments have been unwilling to address for more than two decades.
“For too long it’s been in the too-hard basket. Not anymore,” the Premier said.
“Next week, the Attorney will introduce legislation into the Parliament to right this wrong. Once the Bill has gone through Committee, and is then brought back for a vote later this year and passed, we aim to have all 17-year-olds removed from adult prisons within 12 months.
“The issues involved in treating 17-year-olds involved in serious and often violent crimes as young people in our youth justice system and not as adults are complex, which is why we must tackle them through a whole of government process.
“We can continue to ensure community safety for Queenslanders, while meeting the needs of vulnerable young people through the sort for programs and services that can only be delivered through the youth justice system.”
The decision comes after footage emerged showing a 17-year-old restrained in a spit mask in an adult prison in Brisbane.
During a visit to the Gold Coast, Police Minister Bill Byrne said it was more like a helmet and was designed to protect the 17-year-old from harming himself.
It has been reported that he was forced to wear the device after he asked for some toilet paper.
The vision was released by News Corp after Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath said “I note that tear gas, spit hoods and mechanical chairs are not used in Queensland.”
On Wednesday Ms D’Ath said one of the most important issues to be considered in moving 17-year-olds into the youth justice system is the safety of younger children already in the system.
“Our two youth detention centres in Brisbane and Townsville house males and females, some as young as ten,” Mrs D’Ath said.
“Our commitment to transfer 17-year-olds, some charged with violent offences, from adult prisons to open campus centres housing much younger males and females, must ensure the safety and wellbeing of all children involved.
“That’s why we need to address the very high rates of young people who are on remand – in other words, only about one in five children in youth detention centres are there as a result of charges of which they’ve been convicted.
“The rest are still waiting to face court. We need to significantly reduce those remand numbers, both for the welfare of the young people involved and to accommodate all 17-year-olds in the youth justice system.”
The footage also emerged in the wake of an ABC Four Corners story that touched on the use of force against young offenders at a Youth Detention Centre in the Northern Territory.
The Government also announced the two independent experts who will conduct the review into the practices, operation and oversight of Queensland’s Youth Detention Centres. The Attorney-General announced the independent review last month.
Professor Megan Davis is the Chair and UN expert member on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, a member of the NSW Sentencing Council and an Acting Commissioner of the NSW Land and Environment Court.
Kathryn McMillan QC is a Queensland barrister with nearly 30 years’ experience. She is a member of Dame Quentin Bryce’s Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council, a member of the Child Death Case Review Panel.
Mrs D’Ath said the two reviewers brought a wealth of expertise across the breadth of issues relating to the administration of youth justice.
“I am very grateful Professor Davis and Ms McMillan QC have agreed to conduct this review,” Mrs D’Ath said.
“Their experience and insight is well suited to addressing the complex and sensitive nature of youth justice.
“This review will be given some powers under the Commission of Inquiry Act to ensure witnesses can be compelled and evidence can be protected.”
The review will look into allegations levelled against the staff of youth detentions centres by former detainees and former employees in the media last month, and also specific allegations raised this month about the treatment of a 17-year-old in an adult prison three years ago.
The review will also look at the practices, operation and oversight of Queensland’s Youth Detention Centres and report back by 30 November.