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Issue #1776      May 10, 2017

Youth justice report highlights abuses

An independent investigation by Professor Megan Davis and Kathryn McMillan into Queensland’s youth justice system has recommended an overhaul of the approach of punishing vulnerable children and instead working with communities to help young people.

The Queensland Independent Review of Youth Detention was announced last August, after Amnesty International exposed allegations of abuse in detention, including the use of dogs against children, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

The report highlights serious abuses of children in Queensland youth detention and recommends a less punitive approach to dealing with children in the justice system. It recommends not using security dogs to discipline children, ensuring children are not physically restrained unless it is a last resort, better mental health support and limiting the use of solitary confinement.

It recommends the government consider justice reinvestment collaborations between existing community-based services and the Youth Justice Department. This is an approach where people and families going through difficult times are supported so they don’t offend in the first place.

It also recommends that Indigenous organisations play a key role in stakeholder consultation around the issue of 17-year-olds in detention. Indigenous children are 28 times more likely to be detained in Queensland than other children.

Amnesty Indigenous rights campaigner Roxanne Moore welcomed the government’s pledge to accept, in principle, all 83 recommendations and promise of $6.2 million for youth justice.

“These are investments in young people’s futures to stop them re-offending. Now we need to see a time frame for these recommendations to be implemented promptly,” she said. Solutions recommended in the report include investing in community-based wrap-around services to address the causes of young people’s offending.

“In particular, Indigenous children need culturally specific support,” Moore said.

“That’s why this government must invest in innovative healing programs run by Indigenous leaders, which see outstanding success in keeping kids out of detention and with their families.”

Programs

Moore said successful programs included the Red Dust healing program in Townsville and the Mona horsemanship program in Mount Isa, which are seeing impressive results in connecting with Indigenous children and keeping them in their communities.

The Queensland government came under fire for censoring the report with hundreds of pages fully or partially redacted (blacked out). Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath refused to say whether any children were hogtied in the state’s youth detention centres and defended a decision to redact large parts of the report, which she says was done on the advice of crown lawyers to avoid identifying minors.

D’Ath refused to comment on pictures in the report that allegedly showed children tied up. “I’m not going to start talking about the photos that are in (the report). That defeats the purpose of redacting them,” she said.

However, she said one of the recommendations was to ensure staff were made aware of the proper procedure when youth had to be “ground stabilised”. “We need to make sure that the staff are properly trained as to when restraints can be used, we need to make sure that when those incidents occur they are properly reported, and if there are any complaints they are properly investigated,” D’Ath said.

It appears even the report’s authors intended for its contents to be made public, with a disclaimer in the introduction warning of graphic images and case studies, all of which were redacted.

Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls slammed the redacting of the report.

“Page 154 of the report ... talks about capacity concerns in youth detention in relation to the Premier’s plan to move 17-year-olds into youth detention,” Nicholls said. “But simple statistics have been blacked out so nobody can see what the report says is a ‘sobering statistical prediction’.”

The review was ordered following the emergence of footage of young detainees being allegedly mistreated, including one case in which a 17-year-old boy was restrained by five adults, stripped and left in that state for an hour.

D’Ath said the government had accepted all 83 of the report recommendations, and had begun to implement many of them before its release.

Koori Mail

Next article – Unite for your rights – May Day Toast, Perth 2017

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