Queensland ranks worst state for youth detention capacity pressure

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Queensland’s approach to locking up children and teenagers is at odds with the number of its permanently funded youth detention beds, with the state coming closer than any other to overfilling its centres last financial year.

The state has also reached a new high for the average number of young offenders in detention since 17-year-olds were removed from the adult justice system, while the number under community-based supervision, such as bail or community service orders, also fell.

A still from CCTV footage of a young person being held on the ground in a Queensland youth detention centre, contained in a report.

A still from CCTV footage of a young person being held on the ground in a Queensland youth detention centre, contained in a report.

The details, laid out in a report on government services by the Productivity Commission on Wednesday, come as the state prepares to build two new detention centres despite long-standing plans to keep young people out of such sites.

Despite Queensland locking-up more young offenders than any other state or territory, with an average nightly detention centre population of 274.9 across the 2021-22 financial year, the commission’s report notes the state had only 288 permanently funded beds.

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This resulted in a centre utilisation rate of 95.5 per cent, up from 84.8 per cent in the previous financial year and the highest since 2018-19 when 17-year-olds were shifted from the adult to youth justice system.

In NSW and Victoria, which had average nightly youth detention populations of about 186 and 120, a total of 370 and 276 beds were permanently funded in the 2021-22 financial year.

Queensland also had the highest number of young people under community supervision, at 920 — down from 1269 in 2018-19.

Just this month, a magistrate said two teens were held in police watch houses for more than two weeks, breaking police protocol, because the state’s three detention centres were “at capacity”.

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