Updated on 20/5/19
The horrific human rights abuses reported in last night’s Four Corners program has prompted an angry response from a former adviser to the Queensland Government and calls from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, medical and human rights organisations for the age of responsibility to be raised to at least 14.
— Amnesty International Australia ? (@amnestyOz) May 13, 2019
Health and advocacy groups write:
Change the Record said that a recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Youth Justice in Australia 2017–18 report demonstrates the urgent need for Australia to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years of age.
The report found that 2 in 5 (39%) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people under supervision in 2017–18 were first supervised when aged 10–13, compared with about 1 in 7 (15%) non-Indigenous young people.
“This research clearly demonstrates that raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 is necessary to end the over-incarceration of our children. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids aged 10-13 years old are coming into the system at rates that show serious systemic flaws when compared with non-Indigenous kids,” said Cheryl Axleby, co-chair of Change the Record.
Will an Aboriginal kid will die in police custody before they do something? It is only a matter of time. We know our mob don’t survive in police custody. 3 kids have lost finger tips, 3 attempts at suicide. The clock is ticking on their lives.#4Corners #KidsOutOfWatchHouses
— Roxy Moore (@Roxy_Moore_) May 13, 2019
58% of kids in prison in Queensland are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids, but they are only 6% of the population.
87% of kids in prison in Queensland are on remand, meaning they have not been sentenced.
This is a human rights injustice#4Corners
— Change the Record (@Change_Record) May 13, 2019
Damian Griffins, co-chair of Change the Record, also called for national leadership to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in incarceration. “Australia should be ashamed that the youth justice gap for our kids is widening. This is not surprising as there is no national justice target in Closing the Gap. We’ve continually called for to implement the solutions we’ve identified,” he said.
Tonight’s #4Corners reinforces that #nothingchangesifnothingchanges The criminalisation & imprisonment of children has been the same since I was a 13yr old abused & imprisoned While we continue to advocate reform we get the same Racicm & poverty must end #qldpol #abolitionnow
— Debbie Kilroy (@DebKilroy) May 13, 2019
"I am deeply concerned about the potential for serious harm to be caused to children through prolonged confinement in watch house holding pens": Full statement from Commissioner Scott McDougall after last night's #4Corners episode 'Inside the Watch House': https://t.co/Hr5UHFrBJA
— Queensland Human Rights Commission (@QldHumanRights) May 13, 2019
Rodney Dillon, Indigenous Rights Advisor at Amnesty International Australia, criticised the denial of bail to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children children, which has led to the current situation where 60% of children in prison are on remand.
“The crisis of the over-representation of Indigenous children in the justice system continues. It is absolutely horrific that children are sitting behind bars unsentenced. There is no excuse for this – all governments must commit to Indigenous-led prevention and early intervention programs that will keep kids out prison in the first place,” he said.
The Qld police are taking the brunt of this on #4Corners but the justice system is delivering children into custody, often for minor offences, without any safe place to hold them. That’s the fault of judges, MPs and prison admins too.
— David Shoebridge (@ShoebridgeMLC) May 13, 2019
Ruth Barson, Legal Director at Human Rights Law Centre, also called for the criminal age of responsibility to be raised, commenting that: “It’s just common sense that children should be in playgrounds and classrooms, not prisons. Laws that see children as young as ten behind bars are out of touch with common decency. Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world.”
Building a new prison is worst reaction – will just perpetuate abuse in watchhouses. Kids were hogtied & sedated for years in Qld youth prisons! #RaiseTheAge of criminal responsibility to 14 – this makes room for 17 yos AND stops next generation going into prison. #4Corners
— Roxy Moore (@Roxy_Moore_) May 13, 2019
Stories of children locked up for weeks in squalid prison cells made for adult criminals should make all of us angry. How can this be ok in Australia? It is a disgrace. #4Corners
— Sarah Hanson-Young? (@sarahinthesen8) May 13, 2019
These calls were supported overnight by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians which called for urgent action from the Queensland government to review current young people in their care.
RACP spokesperson and paediatrician Dr Mick Creati said that while youth incarceration and its health and societal impacts were very complex issues, until the age of criminal responsibility was raised Australia would continue to see unacceptable treatment and unjust outcomes in the judicial and penal systems.
“Until we see proper recognition of the fact that children under the age of 14 have less capacity than adults to process information, plan, recognise the consequence of their actions and minimal impulse control – we’ll continue to see very unjust and cruel outcomes,” Dr Creati said.
“The RACP is extremely concerned by reports of children as young as 10 years of age being held under extreme physical conditions with a lack of access to appropriate nutrition, hygiene facilities and medical care.
“Adolescence is a critical time in a person’s development. Isolation and a lack of access to health services are damaging to the healthy development of a child.
“The RACP wants all governments to move to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years, in line with the significant body of evidence on child brain development and United Nations recommendations.
“Children experiencing significant neurological development can’t be held responsible in the same way as adults – it’s not just unjust it is not supported by evidence.”
Queensland police officer strikes a mother's throat as her son screams https://t.co/Pqeoeft5Eo
— Hon Member of the Far Black (@DrMLongbottom) May 13, 2019
Noongar woman, human rights lawyer and Aboriginal rights activist, Roxy Moore, also in a Tweet she stated that she was “furious” with the Queensland Government after spending “many hours in an advisory group developing alternatives to prison so that when the 17 year old law came into effect, this would not happen.”
“The Queensland Government had plenty of time to do this and they failed to act,” she added.
Bearing witness to their torture is not the end of our obligations to these kids. They need us to get them out of police lock ups and all prisons, upend the systems that locked them up, and build care in at every stage. #KidsOutOfWatchHouses #4Corners https://t.co/PjewgCWnhW
— alison whittaker (@AJ_Whittaker) May 13, 2019
Amnesty International has undertaken its own research into this issue and identified 2,655 breaches of domestic and international law, including:
- keeping children in watch houses for illegal durations;
- failing to provide children with adequate clean clothes, underwear and personal hygiene products;
- the institutional use of violence;
- the use of isolation as a form of punishment;
- failure to provide adequate health and mental health care; and
- failure to provide access to adequate education.
It has launched an action to stop children being detained in police watchhouses overnight.
John Kasinathan from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) said Four Corner’s revelations were “of deep concern” to the RANZCP and its member psychiatrists.
“We were shocked to learn of the extent of poor conditions availed to these young people in Queensland police watch-houses,” he told Croakey.
Kasinathan said RANZCP senior Queensland psychiatrists have raised concerns, since at least early 2018, with the Queensland Government about young people being held in adult watch houses for prolonged periods. He said:
“The Queensland population has increased over the last 10 years, but youth justice (YJ) bed numbers have not increased in a commensurate manner, despite the Queensland Government knowing that pressures on increased young people in custody were coming. This has resulted in the marked rise of young people being held for weeks in adult police watch-houses.
“YJ centres and beds are preferable to police watch houses, due to their ability to better provide adequate-trained youth staff, education, vocational programs, physical health care and mental health care.”
Kasinathan supported calls for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to a minimum of 14 years but said greater funding will be needed for care systems to address children aged 10 to 13 who engage in offending behaviour.
“Best practice involves providing trauma-informed, therapeutic care for young people interacting with the youth justice system. Psychiatric disorders are highly prevalent, so optimal mental health assessment and treatment needs to be provided in a timely and humane manner,” he said.