Action threat over ‘children assaulted in watch houses’

Fraser Barton |

First Nations children make up 70 per cent of young people incarcerated in Queensland watch houses.
First Nations children make up 70 per cent of young people incarcerated in Queensland watch houses.

A youth advocacy group is considering legal action after accusing the Queensland government of failing to protect children in watch houses.

The government has been told it must take urgent action amid allegations juveniles have been sexually and physically assaulted in police watch houses.

Youth Advocacy Centre CEO Katherine Hayes has accused the government of lacking a plan to deal with the issue.

The organisation is considering legal action on behalf of the “children and young people who have been mistreated while held in adult watchhouses in Queensland”, Ms Hayes said in a statement on Monday.

“The incidents of mistreatment include sexual abuse by other child inmates, physical harm by guards and other children, and long term harm to their mental health from being detained for long periods – up to 30 days – in small watchhouse cells with no fresh air or sunlight.”

Youth Advocacy Centre (YAC) CEO Katherine Hayes
Katherine Hayes says youths are being abused by other child inmates as well as guards. (Youth Advocacy Centre/AAP PHOTOS)

Ms Hayes has penned a letter to the state, claiming assaults on children in watch houses had been raised “numerous times” in meetings with the government.

A lack of mental health support for children had been highlighted, amid claims children as young as 13 had expressed “suicidal ideations while in the watch houses”.

Ms Hayes said First Nations children made up 70 per cent of young people in adult watch houses and accused the government of failing to provide sufficient cultural support.

Two 14-year-old Indigenous boys have been in watch houses for 28 and 30 days respectively while a 13-year-old First Nations boy has been held for 15 days, she said.

An 11-year-old First Nations boy and four, 13-year-old children were in adult watch houses.

A total of 56 Indigenous children were incarcerated in Queensland watch houses.

“This is 70 per cent of the total number. This alone should be cause for immediate action,” Ms Hayes said.

“The watch houses and detention centres have now been operating beyond capacity for months.

“The system is not coping and there is no indication that the government has any coherent plan to address the root causes of offending.”

The advocacy group called for further support for young people after release and a review of bail refusal for people under 14.

Premier Steven Miles said he was happy to discuss the concerns with the Youth Advocacy Centre.

“We can’t have a detention centre in every single town and so there will always be times where to keep the community safe police needs to detain young people in watch houses,” he told reporters.

Mr Miles was on Monday told by media of allegations a 14-year-old had been sexually assaulted and an 11-year-old bashed in a Queensland watch house.

“I know that our police and other services do their very best and where there are reports like those ones, they will be appropriately investigated,” he said.

Contingencies allowing children to be kept in police watch houses and adult prisons were controversially passed by the Queensland government in 2023, over-riding the state’s own human rights act.

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