'Alarming' toll on children locked in Toowoomba watch house
A TOOWOOMBA lawyer has reported seeing kids "pace like caged animals" after being held for extended periods of time in the Toowoomba watch house.
MacDonald Law founder and special counsel Shane MacDonald said the remand of juvenile offenders, those aged 10 - 17, often occurred when they could not provide a bail address.
"I know of (juvenile offenders) who have been held there for over a week, but it's not uncommon for it to be between five and seven days," Mr MacDonald said.
"The facilities are not set up for children. They are only really meant for adults and those who are going to stay 48 hours."
His comments follow a Four Corners episode last week, which showed children being held at the Brisbane watch house for extended periods of time.
"Although (the juveniles) are kept separately (at the watch house) they can hear what is going on - people who are coming down from drugs and those who are fighting," he said.
"Some of the people in there say inappropriate things to them from the next cell - things 12-year olds shouldn't hear."
He said many of the children had no chance to exercise, get fresh air or access counsellors while in the watch house.
"When you speak to them in the interview rooms, especially if they have been there a while, they are like a caged animal, a lot of the time they pace backwards and forwards," he said.
He said he understood the community's concern in keeping offenders off the streets, but there was a better way.
"People generally don't make a career choice to be a criminal, they are victims of circumstance," he said.
"All (this is) going to do is increase their feelings of worthlessness, making it harder for them to fit back into society."
As Toowoomba does not have a youth detention centre, he suggested the construction of temporary demountables in the Brisbane centre as a short term solution.
CatholicCare Social Services Director Kate Venables runs the government funded bail program for juveniles in Toowoomba and the west.
"We currently have half a dozen clients on the books, the youngest being 11," she said.
"My understanding is that the detention centre (in Brisbane) is full, which is appalling.
"We just don't want the kids in remand."
She said she was hopeful the bail program would reduce the issue.
Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women Di Farmer said safety of young people and staff was the highest priority.
"The Department does everything it can to minimise the time a young person is held in a watch house and works closely with the Queensland Police Service and other government and non-government agencies to make sure the young people are safe and get the support they need," she said.
"When likely to be held in a watch house for an extended period, most young people are transferred to the Brisbane City Watch House. It has a dedicated 21-bed wing used exclusively for young people.
"Young people at Brisbane City Watch House receive on-site visits from Child Youth and Mental Health service, Brisbane Youth Education and Training Centre staff, visits from Murri Watch and support from Sisters Inside."
She said the government had recently announced the construction of a new 32 bed youth detention centre in Brisbane.
Shadow Attorney-General David Janetzki said the current situation was "alarming".
"They must be detained with dignity," he said.
"It's concerning they can be held next door to serious sexual and violent offenders - it's just not right.
"We are calling for temporary accommodation to house these kids in the right environment."
The police were contacted for comment.