Queensland Government criticised for silencing young prisoners in 'cover up' report

An independent review into Queensland youth detention centres has been unable to determine whether systemic mistreatment exists, mainly due to time constraints.

"The incidents reviewed are not sufficient to support a finding that there is systemic mistreatment of young people in Queensland youth detention centres," the report concludes.

The report follows a string of disturbing incidents at the state's youth detention facilities were revealed last year by Amnesty International.

The new report's authors, Kathryn McMillan QC and Professor Megan Davis, noted the timeframe of the report was "very short" and didn't allow time to conduct hearings, which would've called 80-100 witnesses.

"We can only come to the conclusion that this is a cover up."

However, the report found a number of indicators that systemic mistreatment may exist, including:

Incidents of self harm not reported
Nurses refused entry into locked rooms to administer medication
Young people not attending classes
Notably, six chapters detailing the experiences of young people at the centre of the inquiry have been redacted by the State Government, who received the report in December last year.

Debbie Kilroy, founder of prisoner advocacy group Sisters Inside and a member of the QLD sentencing advisory council, has called on the government to release those pages.

"Young people have been silenced again, and that is a major concern," Ms Kilroy told NITV News.

"It says quite clearly in the report that they de-identified the young people, and they were anonymous, so why do we have nearly half of the report removed?

"We can only come to the conclusion that this is a cover up."

The Queensland Government ordered the review last year following an Amnesty International investigation, which exposed images showing alleged mistreatment of juvenile inmates at Townsville's Cleveland Youth Detention Centre.

In one incident in 2015, a guard let a dog without a muzzle approach an Indigenous girl in an “aggressive manner” while she was attempting to get out of a pool.

Another incident, which occurred in January 2013, involved a 17-year-old boy who was deemed to be at risk of suicide.

CCTV images show 14 staff approaching him after he refuses to return to his room. Several hold him down on the floor, putting him in handcuffs and binding his legs. They take him to an isolated cell where they cut his clothing and underpants off with a knife, leaving him naked in the cell for over an hour.

CCTV footage deleted without explanation
The review found a number of incidents where CCTV footage was "incomplete". In one instance, one hour of CCTV footage relating to an incident has been permanently deleted without explanation.

It also found that "there appeared to be a reliance on the use of mechanical restraints in response to incidents", and there was a lack of clarity around how security dogs could be used.

The report has made 83 recommendations, including:

Security dogs should not be used to discipline young people
All incidents involving use of force, violence, restraints or separation should be captured and retained on CCTV
Corrective services staff should be counselled and re-trained on when it's appropriate to use force, and should only use restraints as a last resort

Indigenous young people from regional/remote areas should have cultural visits from someone in their community (in person or via video).

There should be consultation with external Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders to design and implement cultural programs.

New independent body to oversee youth detention
The Palaszczuk Government has accepted the recommendations, and moved to establish an independent body to oversee youth detention issues.

“Substantial reform is underway in youth justice to reduce youth crime and recidivism, including addressing the underlying factors that contribute to offending to prevent young people from turning to crime to start with and to stop them reoffending," says Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath.

Amnesty International's Indigenous Rights Campaigner, Roxanne Moore, welcomed the reforms.

"This report confirms really serious abuses against children in Queensland youth detention," the Noongar woman told NITV News.

"These changes are very much needed in Queensland to ensure that children in detention and behind bars are getting the protection that they need."

The full report is available here.

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