Treatment of young people in detention is a national crisis, say lawyers
13th May 2019
Tonight’s Four Corners episode showing children locked up in adult watch-houses in Queensland makes it clear that Australia is failing in its duty of care to young people, according to the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).
“This treatment of young people is horrific and, unfortunately, it is not confined to Queensland,” said Greg Barns, National Criminal Justice spokesperson for the ALA. “In Tasmania, children are strip-searched and in the Northern Territory youth justice laws were recently amended to remove the protections introduced following the Don Dale Royal Commission.
“This is a national crisis. We need urgent Commonwealth and state action to ensure that Australia complies with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“Children should be in schools, homes and playgrounds, only ever detained as a last resort, and for the shortest amount of time possible, with genuine efforts made at rehabilitation.
“If detention is required, it must be in safe places that are appropriate for children. Never police cells or facilities designed for adults.
“Under international law, the best interests of the child must be paramount, detention only ever used as a last resort, and torture and ill-treatment are never permissible. Children and young people detained in inhumane conditions can and should sue the State of Queensland. There is a duty of care owed to children, which includes putting their best interests first. This has not happened here.
“Unfortunately the issues around children in detention disproportionately affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare youth justice report found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up more than half (56%) of the young people in detention, although only 5% of people aged 10-17 are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
“There is a duty of care to ensure that all people being detained by the state are cared for by staff with the appropriate skills and training, and in facilities appropriate to their needs. The primary aim of all detention should be rehabilitation and, when it comes to children, this must be the number one priority.
“When the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory was announced, the ALA called for all places where children are detained by any government in Australia to be investigated. We reiterate that call today,” Mr Barns said.