CCTV images appear to show a teenager with ankle-cuffs being held down at the Townsville centre. Photo: SuppliedQueensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath has ordered an independent review into the state’s youth detention centres after released internal government reports show the alleged mistreatment of children.
The government’s Ethical Standards unit quarterly reports from Queensland’s two youth detention centres, Cleveland Youth Detention Centre and Brisbane Youth Detention Centre, dated between 2010 to 2015, were released under Freedom of Information laws on Thursday.
Within the reports were allegations of the mistreatment of children, including CCTV images showing a teenage boy, 17, handcuffed and ankle-cuffed, being restrained on the floor by five guards before being allegedly carried into an isolation cell where his clothes were cut off.
Amnesty International, which obtained the 1000-page documents, said the reports showed a “culture of abuse and secrecy going back many years”.
While calls have been made to have Queensland’s youth detention centres included in the Royal Commission into Youth Detention in the Northern Territory, Ms D’Ath said the situations in the state and territory were different.
“The images are confronting, but it is important to note these images were contained in an Ethical Standards unit report that is provided quarterly where recommendations are made and actions are taken on an ongoing basis,” she said.
“This is not a situation like the Northern Territory where concerns were raised and potentially no action taken, or views were expressed where things were hidden.
“I have confidence in our system and in our youth justice system, but I need to make sure the community has confidence in our system and the best way to do that is to have an independent review.
“These are serious allegations that affect our community, that damages the reputation and the confidence that the committee has in our youth detention centres and it affects the staff who operate in these centres.
“I believe it would be damaging to allow these allegations to continue to be made and not to be able to respond to them which is why I am conducting an independent review.”
Amnesty International welcomed the independent review, but called for any staff involved in any alleged mistreatment to be suspended.
“As a first priority, Amnesty International urged the Queensland government to ensure the safety of all children currently in detention, including suspending any staff alleged to have been involved in abuses,” a statement read.
Amnesty International Indigenous rights campaigner Roxanne Moore called on the Queensland government to learn from the process of establishing the Northern Territory royal commission when setting up the terms of reference for the review.
“The abuse of children in detention is an issue that has lurked under a cloak of secrecy for many years, under successive Queensland governments, and we welcome the Queensland government’s swift response,” she said.
Ms D’Ath said she could not comment on any specific incidents but said some staff had been dismissed.
“What is important and what the people of Queensland expect from us is where an employee uses force inappropriately, or unauthorised force or excessive force, that it is reported, that it is investigated and that action is taken,” she said.
“We have zero tolerance to excessive force and, as we have said, staff have been terminated for inappropriate behaviour in the past and we will continue to do that.
“Without the express consent of those individuals involved, including any former employees who were terminated, I am unable to address in any meaningful way the substance of these allegations.
“It is clear that while these allegations continue to be made and consent has not been provided to respond to them fully, an independent review is the appropriate mechanism to address all allegations that have been made and any additional allegations that may come forward.”
Ms D’Ath said she was looking for two people, a man and woman, to head the investigation who would have a detailed knowledge of the youth justice system, cultural awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience and legal knowledge.
“The government will shortly release the full terms of reference for the review, but the focus will firmly be on the practices, operation and oversight of Queensland’s youth detention centres, specifically referring to the allegations raised last night,” she said.
“The review will report back to me by November.”
Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope said more could be done to make sure youth detention was the last resort.
“Early intervention programs offer one avenue for reducing the prison population overall,” he said.
“There is good evidence that treatment of drug dependence is an effective way of reducing reoffending.
“There is also good evidence that it is possible to rehabilitate offenders using methods such as conferencing, cognitive behavioural therapy or training in basic life skills.
“We accept that detention may be needed in some cases, but they are a very small minority of those who are detained at present.”
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