Queensland children may be pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit to avoid bail laws, report says

Police minister Mark Ryan says nation-leading incarceration rates reflect what the community wants

Queensland children could be pleading guilty to offences they didn’t commit, a new report suggests, with the state’s police minister saying its nation-leading rates of youth incarceration reflect the “community’s expectation”.

The comments from Mark Ryan came after he released an eight-month-old report, assessing new bail laws designed to enable the Palaszczuk government’s “crackdown on youth crime”, late on Tuesday night.

That report said children could be pleading guilty to offences they didn’t commit or were being imprisoned for first-time, low-level offences under the state’s youth justice laws.

But Ryan said the report showed the laws were working as intended, by keeping more serious repeat offenders in detention for longer.

“There has to be consequence for action and when you have tough laws, which are a reflection of what the community’s expectation is, then ultimately you do have more people in custody,” the police minister said.

Former police commissioner Bob Atkinson, who authored the Youth Justice Reform Review, identified a number of “standouts” among the eight legislated changes and nine policy initiatives he reviewed, six months after they were introduced in early 2021.

Among these were the removal of the presumption of bail for children caught committing serious offences while already on conditional release, a crackdown on hooning and use of electronic monitoring devices, or “ankle bracelets” fitted to some juvenile offenders.

On Wednesday morning, Atkinson also praised a knife-wanding trial on the Gold Coast which the report found had reduced knife crime by as much as 23%.

However, a review of that Gold Coast trial carried out by Griffith University’s Criminology Institute found no evidence that the scanners deterred people from carrying knives or had led to a significant drop in violent crime.

That review noted that a 12-month trial period was generally regarded as too short a time to accurately identify any longer term outcomes. But Atkinson backed the measures.

“My view on that is that, as long as it is used responsibly and is open to transparency in how often it is used and who it is used by the police in relation to, then we should look at expanding it, as the government have, and not limit the potential for it to be expanded further in future,” he said.

“With no disrespect to academic research, none whatsoever, I think the jury is well and truly still out on this and I think, if the public support it and the police are going to be responsible, then I think it is a worthwhile thing to do.”

The Griffith review found that some officers racially profile potential targets during the Gold Coast knife-scanning trial.

That trial was expanded last week to allow police to use the metal detectors on people in nightlife precincts and on public transport across the state, despite concerns from civil libertarians that it allows police to bypass standard grounds of reasonable suspicion before searching people.

In his report, Atkinson said some lawyers raised concerns that there were children pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit, or where evidence was inadequate since the laws were passed.

They also warned children may have been imprisoned for first-time, low-level offences “unlikely to warrant a detention order”.

“These claims cannot be fully substantiated with data, but data sourced for this review shows the length of time young people spend in watchhouses and on remand has increased since the reforms commenced,” Atkinson wrote in the report.

“There were concerns that the provisions designed to target serious, repeat youth offenders may be capturing first-time offenders and children who would not fall into the serious repeat-offender category.

“As well as potential negative impacts on young people, this possibility raises impacts for the workloads of court stakeholders including legal advocates.”

Despite those concerns, Atkinson found the laws were improving community safety as more children had their bail refused or were held in custody.


Joe Hinchliffe

The GuardianTramp

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