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Issue #1746      August 31, 2016

More violent abuse

An investigation by Amnesty International into juvenile detention in Queensland has revealed multiple incidents of violent abuse and mistreatment of children, including the use of dogs to intimidate and one child left naked in a cell after having his clothes cut off with a knife.

Following Amnesty’s investigation and an airing of some of the abuses on ABC TV’s 7.30 program last week, Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath announced that two investigators would be given three months to oversee an independent review into Queensland’s youth justice system.

Amnesty International Australia Indigenous rights campaigner Roxanne Moore, a Noongar woman, said freedom of information requests had revealed more than 1,000 pages of documents showing abuse of young people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Culture of abuse, secrecy

“We’ve shone a light into the dark corners of these detention centres, and found a culture of abuse and secrecy going back many years,” she said.

“It shouldn’t take the probing of an international human rights organisation for the public to hear about terrible abuses suffered by children in detention.

“This culture of secrecy has existed for many years, through successive governments. The problem is systemic and goes beyond politics. Queensland kids need bipartisan support to create a more humane and preventative justice system, focused on rehabilitating vulnerable children, rather than further traumatising them.”

The documents include incidents at Townsville’s Cleveland Youth Detention Centre (CYDC) and Brisbane Youth Detention Centre (BYDC) from 2010 to 2015.

On an average day in 2015, 89 percent of children in CYDC were Indigenous.

One incident at CYDC in January 2013 involved a 17-year-old boy identified as a high-suicide risk. When he refused to return to his room and sat on a bench with his arms folded, 14 staff responded to the situation.

Held down, left naked

Several staff members held him down on the floor, putting him in handcuffs and legcuffs. They then took the child to a tiny isolation cell where they cut off his clothing and underpants with a knife. The boy was left naked in the cell for over an hour before being given a gown to wear.

Despite the brutal nature of this event, it was not reported as an “incident of concern”. An internal review was not held immediately afterwards because the child did not make a complaint.

“I think it is disgraceful that these allegations of human rights abuses have been sitting with government officials gathering dust, ignored, or swept under the rug,” Moore said. “It should not be left to a traumatised, suicidal boy to report the abuse carried out against him, in order for people to be held responsible for serious violations against a child in their care.”

Other incidents outlined in the documents include:

  • Use of dogs. In 2014, a child on a roof threatened to self-harm or suicide by hanging: A security guard and his dog were deployed to the scene, which was found to increase the young person’s anxiety. In August 2015, a guard allowed an un-muzzled dog to approach an Indigenous girl in an “aggressive manner” while she was attempting to get out of a pool.
  • Solitary confinement. In March 2012 eight Indigenous children were held in isolation for 10 days in “near-continuous cell confinement” (approximately 22 hours a day). For the first two days of isolation, they were not allowed to leave their rooms at all.
  • Frequent attempts at self harm or suicide, particularly at CYDC. According to the documents, last year saw 31 incidents of children in CYDC attempting suicide by ‘”tying ligatures around their necks”. This number rose from 20 instances at in 2014.
  • Excessive use of force. In 2010 at CYDC there were four incidents when children suffered fractured wrists as a result of control and restraint techniques.
  • Partially clothed searches, during which children were asked to squat, with young girls asked to lift their breasts and young boys to lift their genitals prior to squatting – despite practices of squatting and lifting being prohibited in adult prisons.

Justice reinvestment

Moore said Queensland and all other states and territories would be better off if they embraced justice reinvestment, where the money that would have been spent on prisons is instead invested in community-led early intervention and diversionary programs.

“Solutions must be Indigenous-led if we’re ever going to help our kids who have been caught in the quicksand of disadvantage,” she said. “There are so many great Indigenous programs that help children reconnect with culture and instil them with the confidence needed to turn around their lives.”

Moore called on the federal government to implement the United Nations Optional Protocol on Torture and said the Queensland Palaszczuk government had at least undone some of the extreme legislation regarding children implemented by the former Newman government.

She said, however, 17-year-old children were still treated as adults in the Queensland justice system and more needed to be done to support the principle of detention of children as a last resort.

Koori Mail

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