Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says she is shocked by revelations of serious issues within the state’s youth justice system, despite her own office being across it for months.
Children as young as 10 are spending weeks in watch houses because the state’s youth detention centres are full. Some are held in isolation and some have tried to commit suicide.
Ms Palaszczuk says she doesn’t want young children to spend so much time in detention but alternative accommodations like demountable buildings are not safe.
Neither she nor her ministers have been able to say when the government will stop holding children in adult facilities or if it is working towards a target.
“I don’t determine how many young people are committing serious offences, I don’t control that,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“We do not have secure places available, we do not have beds for drug addiction.”
Ms Palaszczuk said she was shocked by revelations aired by the ABC on Monday even though senior officials in her office were made aware of a number of issues since February.
Queensland’s Public Guardian, Natalie Siegel-Brown, told the ABC children are being “caged like animals” because youth detention facilities are full after the state mandated for 17-year-olds be dealt with in the youth justice system, not the adult system.
Responding to questions about whether the claims would be investigated by an independent or authoritative body, the premier said it would be appropriately handled by her office.
She said acting Director General of the Department of Premier and Cabinet Rachel Hunter was investigating and had the power to make rulings or recommendations.
Ms Palaszczuk in part blamed the lack of alternative accommodation on the Liberal National Party, which closed the Barrett Adolescent Centre for young people with complex mental illnesses in 2014.
On Wednesday, 75 children were being held in watch houses across Queensland.
State opposition leader Deb Frecklington has called for their immediate transfer to temporary housing and is proposing law changes to limit a child’s watch house detention to 72 hours.
“It defies belief that in Queensland we have laws that prevent adults for remaining in prison for over 21 days but we don’t have any laws that protect children,” she said.
“We need an investigation into this issue but what we immediately need to do is get these kids out of the situation that the government have put them in.”
Doctors have expressed concerns over the toll on the mental health of young people being held for lengthy periods in watch houses.
Health Minister Steven Miles said the state’s health department had increased staffing at Brisbane City Watch House and staff ensured children could access mental health services.