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Queensland youth detention centres kept two First Nations teens in ‘separation’ for over 2,000 hours, per new report

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Two First Nations teens each spent more than 2,000 hours in ‘separation’ (similar to solitary confinement) in Queensland youth detention centres before their deaths, a new report has found.

A formal review by a Queensland Government department called their deaths “preventable”.

The latest findings from the Child Death Review Board (CDRB) also show deaths of children who’d had contact with Queensland’s child protection system increased by 4% last year.

Here‘s what you need to know.

Child Death Review Board

All deaths related to children in custody or protective services are subject to an official investigation by the CDRB.

In its newest report, CDRB said there are more children detained in Qld than any other state, and found that 72 children who’d had contact with the child protection system died in 2022-23.

This was up from 69 children in the previous year.

Its report included the case studies of two un-named First Nations teens, ‘Boy 1’ and ‘Boy 2’.

Solitary confinement

Adult prisoners can be held in isolation as a form of punishment known as solitary confinement. Detainees’ only social contact is limited exchanges with guards.

The UN forbids the solitary confinement of children.

In Queensland’s youth detention system, authorities have a practice similar to solitary confinement called “separation”. The Queensland government says children may leave separation for “programs, activities and recreational time“ if approved by prison staff.

Separation

Both boys spent extended periods in separation, including times when they were left in their cells before and after overnight lockdowns.

The CDRB found ‘Boy 2’ spent more than 22 hours a day alone in his cell on 55 days. It found three occasions where he was left alone in his cell for over 24 hours.

79% of the entire time ‘Boy 1’ spent in detention was in separation.

Boy 1

Police detained ‘Boy 1’ on eight separate occasions. He was first charged as an underage offender over stealing and fraudulent activity.

The boy had a history of drug use and had been repeatedly identified as being at risk of suicide and/or self harm from as early as seven-years-old.

He spent 2,411 hours in separation, which is equivalent to 100 days, in the year before he died.

He died 20 days after his release from jail.

Boy 2

‘Boy 2’ was repeatedly sexually assaulted as a teenager. He was first arrested as a 13-year-old for minor offences and was later diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability.

He spent 2,668 hours in separation in the year leading up to his death, or 111 days in total.

Separation accounted for more than half his total time in detention. He verbally abused staff, threw things around his cell, and kicked the door in protest of being in separation with no clear end point.

The boys’ deaths were recorded as a suicide and drug overdose.

The report noted that one of the boys experienced bullying by other detainees in youth detention.

This included being spat on and physically and verbally harassed.

He asked to move cells because of these experiences. He later tried to flood his prison cell and his access to water was cut off.

Staffing

The report blamed significant staff shortages for the length of time the boys spent in solitary confinement.

The CDRB said these shortfalls meant the boys were “denied the opportunity for a rehabilitative and transformative experience in detention”, causing them further harm and damaging their physical and emotional wellbeing.

Recommendations

The board said Qld “leads the nation for the number of nights our young people spend in custody”.

It’s advised the state government to invest in more preventative measures to stop young people from entering the youth justice system.

Queensland’s Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath tabled the report in state Parliament earlier this week.

The Child Protection Minister and Attorney General did not respond to TDA’s requests for comment.

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