The Queensland Government has passed amendments allowing children to be kept in police watchhouses “even if it would not be compatible with human rights”.
First, what’s a watchhouse?
Police watchhouses are holding cells at police stations designed to detain people overnight, or for 24 hours or longer.
Watchhouses don’t offer the same rehabilitation facilities for children as youth detention centres, like education programs and cultural support.
Until now, Queensland law has stated that if a child offender is refused bail, they must be taken to a youth detention facility “as soon as practicable”. The new amendment allows the Government to hold young people in police watchhouses until beds become available in youth detention centres.
The government says there is not enough capacity in youth detention centres to meet demand. It says this is needed because there is not enough capacity in youth detention centres to meet demand.
The amendment will expire in 2026, when it is expected two new youth detention centres will become operational.
The state’s Human Rights Act requires that children must be “segregated from adults”. All children in Queensland also have the right to access education appropriate to their needs.
The Government says its amendments ‘override’ this human rights framework.
However, the Government says that holding a child in a watchhouse could be “less incompatible with human rights and safer” than detaining them in an overcrowded youth detention centre.
Why is this happening now?
This change comes after the Queensland Supreme Court this month found that the detention of children in police watchhouses was unlawful. The court ordered police to transfer the children to youth detention centres immediately.
The new laws are also in response to the rising detention of children in Queensland.
The Greens’ Justice spokesperson Michael Berkman accused the Government of having “little regard for vulnerable young people”.
Opposition MPs said they received “no notice” of the amendments. Manager of Opposition Business Andrew Powell called it the “biggest affront to democracy in Queensland’s history”.
The Labor Government holds a majority in Queensland’s one house of Parliament. This means it does not need further support to pass laws.
A group of local justice advocates called the decision an “attack on vulnerable children”.
Youth Empowered Towards Independence (YETI), the group that brought the watch house challenge against to court, condemned the amendment.
CEO Genevieve Sinclair called watch houses “recidivism [re-offending] factories”, telling TDA the only people wanting to keep children in watch houses seems to be the Government.