By BRAD ILOTT
The recent decision by the Palaszczuk Government to modify the Youth Justice Amendment Act still leaves a glaring hole in the system: a lack of beds in juvenile detention.
After coming into full effect late last year, the Act was seen to contradict previous statements by two of the state’s most important youth justice figures, Police Minister Mark Ryan and Minister for Youth Di Farmer that the system was working, leading some to label it a “backflip”. The announcement of a 24-hour youth crime police task force is a positive for the Government, which is working with Queensland Police to target the minority 10 per cent of offenders who commit 50 per cent of the state’s youth crime.
But the issues of insufficient detention facility beds, programs, poor education of youths living in low socioeconomic areas and nation-high rates of reoffending are still causing serious concern, even as the “hard line on youth crime” finally begins.
The government says it will Queensland’s poor youth justice history will be attained through the state’s $550 million reform agenda, the crown jewel being the strategy action plan, a three-tier approach promising new programs, action and infrastructure.
Despite years of lobbying by youth justice advocates, plans for the state’s third detention centre are still being drawn up. There are only two child reform facilities in the state: the Brisbane and Cleveland Youth Detention Centres and more are desperately needed now that 17-year-old offenders are held in youth centres instead of adult jails. Despite a $177 million commitment to resolving the accommodation shortfall, the only construction being undertaken currently is a 32-bed facility in Wacol. This is so the bulk of the money can go toward increasing capacity at the already-functional institutions, with the promise that detention centre beds will increase from 240 in 2019 to 306 by the end of this year.
In 2018 it was reported more than 40 children were being held at a time in state police watch houses due to overcrowding in the state’s youth detention centres. Amnesty International called the system “broken” and “creeping towards a human rights crisis”. Last year, respected ABC investigative program Four Corners aired an in-depth look into the unresolved crisis. It was this jolt that jumpstarted the government into action, despite years of proposed reform and change. Finally, the Youth Justice Act amendments came into full effect during December after intense media scrutiny and criticism.
With the coronavirus pandemic stretching resources thin, Queensland will find out how these measures stand up.