An elderly man whose hospitalisation renewed political debate over youth crime in Queensland has died.
Queensland police said the 75-year-old North Toowoomba man died from his injuries on Monday, after he was taken to hospital in a critical condition last week.
Police will allege he was pushed from behind and had his backpack taken while he was waiting at a taxi rank on 6 February. An 18-year-old man, 17-year-old boy and two 16-year-old boys were initially charged with grievous bodily harm but police said they are expected to have their charges upgraded following the results of a postmortem report.
The man’s death comes as state government ministers prepare to meet at a community forum in Toowoomba on Wednesday night.
The police minister, Mark Ryan, the youth justice minister, Leanne Linard, and the police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, are expected to attend.
A series of high-profile youth crime cases in recent weeks, and revelations about overflowing youth detention centres, have placed enormous pressure on the Palaszczuk government.
On Monday Queensland’s opposition leader, David Crisafulli, backed calls to limit the time children can be held in adult watch houses amid disturbing reports of kids spending weeks in the adult facilities.
Speaking with the Guardian last week, the former Liberal National party leader Deb Frecklington said children should be transferred out of watch houses and into temporary accommodation within 72 hours.
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Crisafulli said he agreed with his party colleague, who described the ongoing practice of detaining youth in watch houses for weeks as “barbaric”.
“What Deb was saying was spot on,” Crisafulli said. “The Queensland police guidelines say that [detaining kids in watch houses] for more than 24 hours should be extraordinary circumstances.
“We’ve had dozens of kids detained for several weeks or more since the start of the year … We’re going to line up and keep calling it out because it’s wrong.”
Police last week revealed that 88 children were being held in watch houses. Since the start of the year, more than 25 children had spent more than three weeks in watch houses.
On Monday Linard said the government aimed to “only hold young people in watch houses for a short period” and that it worked closely with police “to ensure young people are not held in watch houses any longer than required”.
We are in the planning stages of increasing youth detention centre infrastructure in Queensland, working in partnership with the Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, and in consultation with key government agencies,” Linard said.
“Alternate models of detention are being investigated, including smaller facilities that incorporate therapeutic approaches.”
The minister also said “there must be consequences” for “serious repeat offenders”.
Crisafulli said the state government’s failure to “plan” and “listen” had resulted in all three of the state’s youth detention facilities reaching full capacity.
“No one can suggest that locking up kids for several weeks without any form of rehabilitation assists in the long term. That’s a broken system,” Crisafulli said.
But the opposition leader also called for breach of bail to be made an offence and criticised legislation brought in by the Palaszczuk government in 2015, which said detention should be a last resort for children.
“We’ve got an issue with 17% of young repeat offenders. At the other end of the spectrum lies a generation they are failing in not giving them every chance early on in their journey to crime to turn their life around,” Crisafulli said.
On Friday the deputy premier, Steven Miles, said the government was expediting the rollout of the youth detention centres and would look at other temporary solutions.
“It was always clear that when we introduced laws – that were tougher, that presumed against bail – that was always going to result in an increase of the number of … young people in detention,” Miles said.
Miles was lambasted by lawyers after he criticised a Townsville magistrate’s decision to grant bail to the group of children, dubbing it a “media stunt”.