A Queensland magistrate who previously raised concerns about children being held in “harsh” conditions in adult watch houses has granted bail to a teenage girl after saying he was “conscious” that she may otherwise end up in one.
Mount Isa magistrate Eoin Mac Giolla Ri last week said the 15-year-old girl would probably be held for an “extended” period in a watch house if bail was refused, as all three of the state’s youth detention centres were at capacity. Bail was initially refused for the girl on Friday, and the matter adjourned until Monday, in the hope that the parties could find a solution as to her placement. She was subsequently granted bail on Monday.
It came after Mac Giolla Ri, in a separate case last month, expressed concern about children being held in watch houses where “adult detainees are often drunk, abusive, psychotic or suicidal”.
As pressure mounts on the Palaszczuk government to address the conditions faced by youth detainees, Queensland police revealed that 25 children have been held in watch houses for more than three weeks since the start of the year.
The Queensland police’s operational procedures manual states children should only be detained more than one night in a watch house in “extraordinary circumstances”.
A report published by the Queensland Family and Child Commission last November found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children had been imprisoned in Queensland watch houses for up to 35 days.
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Seven young people reported they’d been detained for a week or more, with some shedding light on the inhumane conditions they experienced.
“If you come on weekends, they don’t give you showers, they make you wait until Monday,” one 17-year-old boy said, according to the report.
“If you’re locked in on Friday, you’ve got to stay in there in your same clothes … and they make you drink [from] a tap on top of the toilet.”
Another teenage boy said he was forced to sleep on a block, with no cushions or proper bedding.
In the Mount Isa case, the 15-year-old girl, given the pseudonym Isla Johnson in court documents, was charged with several offences after coming into the care of the child safety department last year.
In a court hearing last week, Mac Giolla Ri said Isla had not been to school or seen her siblings since entering state care and that her offending appeared to be related to friendships she’d developed with “juvenile property offenders” who were also under the supervision of the department.
Mac Giolla Ri said he had hoped she could be returned to her family’s community.
“I am conscious that, due to there being no space in youth detention centres in Queensland at the moment, if I remand Isla in custody, she will be detained in the Mount Isa watch house for an extended period,” he said, before adjourning the matter until Monday.
During a separate case involving a 15-year-old boy who spent 18 nights in a watch house last month, Mac Giolla Ri expressed concern about children being held in cells that “are usually open to the sights and sounds of the watch house”.
“It suffices to say that conditions in watch houses are harsh and that adult detainees are often drunk, abusive, psychotic or suicidal,” Mac Giolla Ri said.
Michelle Ackerman, the acting support services director for Youth Off The Streets, said watch houses are a “traumatic” setting for children to be held in, with no trauma-informed responses provided.
“All we’re doing is compounding people’s trauma over and over and over again,” she said.
Prof John Rynne, the director of the youth forensic service at Griffith University, said watch houses are not “built for sustaining the long-term sustenance of anyone, adults or children”.
“Punishment is not going to stop the offending. What stops the offending is dealing with the problems, some of which include abuse, difficult childhoods, cognitive issues and developmental problems,” he said.
A Queensland police service (QPS) spokesperson said there were currently 88 young people in police custody in Queensland.
“The QPS operational response in support of the government’s strategies to reduce youth crime and prioritise community safety has resulted in increased high-visibility patrols and subsequently more offending persons being taken into custody,” the spokesperson said.
“The number of young people remanded by the courts this year has increased, resulting in a greater number of days people spend in QPS custody awaiting placement within [Queensland Corrective Services] or [Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs] detention facilities.”