Police attend Wacol Youth Detention Centre during a riot.
Police attend Wacol Youth Detention Centre during a riot.

Kids in detention denied access to water, toilet

CHILDREN in youth detention were kept inside a room without a toilet, water tap or bed for up to 10 days after a riot, a damning Ombudsman report has found.

In some cases the youths, who were being punished, were allowed outside of their room for one to two hours.

There was also a perception from detainees at Brisbane Youth Detention Centre that staff would not protect them from being harmed by other youths transferred from Townsville's Cleveland Youth Detention Centre.

Queensland Ombudsman Phil Clarke conducted the investigation into management at the Brisbane centre between November 2016 and February 2017, including what contributed to a riot on January 30 in 2017.

Three youths involved in a major riot in Townsville were brought to Brisbane in November 2016 and problems soon began, according to his report.

One of the youths involved in the north Queensland riot was used by staff as a way of trying to get two other youths down from a rooftop during an incident, but the youth's involvement was not officially recorded by the centre.

It could not be substantiated if the youth, deemed as "extreme risk" and who had a history of violent and intimidating behaviour, was used in the attempt to threaten the other youths to get down.

Another youth claimed staff paid the Townsville children with soft drinks to assault young people who misbehaved, which also could not be substantiated.

However during an inspection months after the Brisbane riot a 1.25l soft drink bottle was found in the room of one of the Townsville youths.

The Ombudsman said it was likely staff made comments "that would lead a young person to believe they may be moved to a particular unit where their safety may be at risk" from the Townsville youths.

Image of the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre admission room. Taken from the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre report.
Image of the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre admission room. Taken from the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre report.

By January 2017 there was a perception the Townsville youths were being given preferential treatment and the Brisbane youth could not rely on staff to protect them.

Two youths complained to the Ombudsman on January 30, including one boy who was told he would be transferred to a different unit where he feared for his safety because of a previous fight with other youths.

Later that day seven youths - including the two complainants - were involved in a "violent and destructive" riot in which the Brisbane centre was significantly damaged and staff assaulted.

The children said they rioted because their possessions were put in garbage bags outside their rooms but also made claims about favouritism by staff towards the Townsville youths.

After the riot, youths were placed in separation for up to 10 days and were given as little as one to hours out of the room a day. They slept on a mattress on a floor and had to ask staff to take them to the toilet, which would take up to an hour, or for water. They also complained of excessive heat.

The Ombudsman said the measures were "unreasonable and oppressive".

He listed 17 recommendations including further training for staff in detention centres; the use of body worn cameras; an enhancement of CCTV coverage and that complaints are appropriately prioritised. He also recommended more measures and training for staff for putting young people in separation.

Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women Di Farmer
Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women Di Farmer

Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women Di Farmer said she was appalled by what the report uncovered.

She said seven of the recommendations had been implemented and others would be.

"The report shines a light on a pattern of disgraceful, unlawful and negligent behaviour by former staff which is simply unacceptable," she said.

"In all cases, appropriate action has been taken in regard to these staff.

"We take this report and its findings very seriously, so we engaged with the Ombudsman while this report was being compiled, and we didn't wait for it to be completed to act on its initial recommendations."

LNP, police and corrective services spokesman Trevor Watts said youth crime was out of control in many parts of the state and the Government's Band-Aid approach was not working.

"Queensland's youth detention centres are overcrowded, which has led to increased riots and a back-up of youth offenders on remand who have nowhere to go," he said.

"As a result police are having to babysit young offenders in watch houses because of Labor's failed youth justice policies.

"These facilities were never designed to hold juvenile offenders and this policy is a recipe for disaster.

"It's been revealed this week that proper education programs only started in watch houses after the LNP questioned (Premier) Annastacia Palaszczuk in parliament last month."