UN urged to intervene against Queensland’s youth justice reforms

Urgent action from the United Nations has been requested in an attempt to prevent the Queensland Government from passing draconian youth justice laws.

Leading Australian human rights organisations have written to the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights requesting intervention against reforms that will make it easier for children to be imprisoned.

The CEO of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service in Queensland, Shane Duffy, said he was extremely concerned that the reforms will have a disproportionate and detrimental impact on young Indigenous people.

“Indigenous people, especially juveniles, are already substantially over-represented in the criminal justice system in Queensland. These short-sighted, punitive policies will only result in more young Indigenous people filling our prisons,” said Mr Duffy.

Legislation to introduce changes to Queensland’s youth justice system looks almost certain to be rushed through the Queensland Parliament when sitting resumes next week.

The reforms include removing the principle that the detention of juveniles be a measure of last resort. The reforms will also introduce the “naming and shaming” of children between the ages of 10 and 16 and will see the automatic transfer of 17 year olds to adult prisons.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of International Advocacy, Ben Schokman, said the reforms are likely to violate a number of Australia’s human rights obligations.

“Children don’t belong in prison. Locking children up should only be done in the most exceptional circumstances and as a measure of absolute last resort. These reforms turn that principle on its head and will result in prison being the norm, rather than the exception,” said Mr Schokman.

In the letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services in Queensland and the Human Rights Law Centre have asked the UN’s independent expert to investigate and take urgent action in relation to the proposed youth justice reforms in Queensland given the impact the new laws will have on young Indigenous people.

“Despite representing just 6 percent of children aged 10 to 16 in Queensland, young Indigenous people currently comprise 60 percent of all young people in detention in Queensland. Rather than reducing crime and making the community safer, these reforms will only increase the already unacceptably high levels of incarceration and disadvantage of young Indigenous people,” said Mr Duffy.

Rather than locking up more Indigenous children, Mr Schokman said the Queensland Government should be taking appropriate steps to reduce the number of young Indigenous people in custody.

“We should be addressing the underlying causes of crime, namely social and economic disadvantage, instead of simply beefing up the punitive lock ‘em up and throw away the key approach,” said Mr Schokman.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights visited Australia in 2009 and at that time expressed concern about the alarmingly high levels of incarceration of Indigenous peoples in Australia, particularly young Indigenous people. In his country report on Australia, the independent expert made a number of recommendations to Australia regarding addressing over-imprisonment, including adopting the many recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991 that have never been implemented.

A copy of the letter to the UN Special Rapporteur is available here.

A copy of the Special Rapporteur’s report from 2009/2010 is available here.