Premier moves swiftly to amend "archaic laws” for 17yos
THE Queensland Government has pledged to remove 17-year-old prisoners from adult jails within 12 months.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her government would introduce legislation to parliament next week "to right this wrong".
She said the bill would be considered through the parliamentary committee process before being voted on later this year.
"For too long it's been in the too-hard basket. Not anymore," she said.
"We aim to have all 17-year-olds removed from adult prisons within 12 months.
"The issues involved in treating 17-year-olds involved in serious and often violent crimes as young people in our youth justice system and not as adults are complex, which is why we must tackle them through a whole of government process."
There are about 50 17-year-olds in adult correctional facilities in Queensland and about 150 young people accommodated in the state's two youth detention centres.
About 200 17-year-olds are under Corrective Services supervision. They would transfer to the youth justice system, with youth justice case workers assuming responsibility for their community-based orders.
Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts applauded the State Government for moving swiftly to amend archaic laws requiring 17-year-old offenders to be sentenced and jailed as adult offenders.
He said it was important to act with haste to change the laws that had been in force for almost 25 years and had been abandoned long ago in every other state and territory in Australia.
"By keeping children out of adult prisons we increase their chances of rehabilitation immeasurably, which is good for them and good for Queensland," he said.
Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said one of the most important issues to be considered in moving 17-year-olds into the youth justice system was the safety of younger children already in the system.
"Our two youth detention centres in Brisbane and Townsville house males and females, some as young as 10," she said.
"Our commitment to transfer 17-year-olds, some charged with violent offences, from adult prisons to open campus centres housing much younger males and females, must ensure the safety and well-being of all children involved.
"That's why we need to address the very high rates of young people who are on remand - in other words, only about one in five children in youth detention centres are there as a result of charges of which they've been convicted.
"The rest are still waiting to face court. We need to significantly reduce those remand numbers, both for the welfare of the young people involved and to accommodate all 17-year-olds in the youth justice system."
Mr Potts said this issue alone was bigger than politics and called for bipartisan support of the measure, noting that as the changes would take some time to implement there was no time to waste on rhetorical debate.
"With young lives at stake, this isn't the time for political point-scoring or ideological chest-beating, it is a time for action," he said.
Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls said the decision to shift 17 year olds appeared to be a "kneejerk reaction" to a week of negative media.
He said this was a complicated issue that needed to be considered as part of the government's full review of youth detention before a decision was made.
"On the surface of it moving 17 year olds out of adult detention facilities may seem reasonable," he said.
"However, we must also carefully weigh that with the reality that, in doing so, very mature and experienced 17 year old offenders will be placed alongside vulnerable 10 and 11 year olds."
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child considers a person as a child until the age of 18.
But 17 year olds are treated as adults in the Queensland justice system.
The government has also announced the two independent experts who will conduct the review into the practices, operation and oversight of Queensland's Youth Detention Centres.
Professor Megan Davis is the Chair and UN expert member on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, a member of the NSW Sentencing Council and an Acting Commissioner of the NSW Land and Environment Court.
Kathryn McMillan is a Queensland barrister with nearly 30 years' experience.
She is a member of Dame Quentin Bryce's Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council and a member of the Child Death Case Review Panel.
Mrs D'Ath said the two reviewers brought a wealth of expertise across the breadth of issues relating to the administration of youth justice.
"This review will be given some powers under the Commission of Inquiry Act to ensure witnesses can be compelled and evidence can be protected," she said.
The review will look into allegations levelled against the staff of youth detentions centres, that were aired in the media last month, and specific allegations raised this month about the treatment of a 17-year-old in an adult prison three years ago.
The review must report back by November 30.
- ARM NEWSDESK