Inappropriately detaining young people in custody puts community safety at risk - repeated studies indicate that the younger a person is when they are first detained in custody, the greater the likelihood that they will go onto re-offend and end up in adult prison. 74% of the young people in custody in Queensland Youth Detention Centres on 30 June 2006 were on remand - i.e. they were being held in custody before a finding of guilt had been made or before their sentence had been finalised. This is largely unnecessary and jeopardises both the safety of the community and the future chances of success in life for the young people detained.
Detaining unconvicted children or young people not charged with a serious violent offence, is unjust and in contravention of Queensland’s human rights obligations. The frequent detention of young people charged with bail violation or offences which would not normally result in a custodial sentence, is of particular concern.
The most recent available estimate of the cost of keeping a young person in detention was $567 per day (NSW, 2005). This suggests that it cost in the vicinity of $57,000 to keep the 101 young people on remand in Queensland Youth Detention Centres on 30 June 2006, for a single day. It further suggests that it costs over $20 million annually, to keep unconvicted 10 - 16 year olds on remand in Queensland.
All the evidence indicates that preventative and early intervention strategies could be expected to save tax dollars and to enhance public safety - in both the short and long term. The alternatives outlined in this paper are, at worst, cost neutral. Estimates of the cost of diversionary options have ranged from $10 per day for a youth justice conference, to $35 per day for community-based supervision, to $106 per day for a brokerage program, to $278 per day for a community placement program.
Current policies and practices are unnecessarily punitive and wasteful. The Queensland Government has acknowledged that remand in custody may have negative consequences for a young person. It asserts that a decision to hold a young person on remand balances the presumption of innocence with community safety. This paper provides clear evidence that this balance is not being achieved, and that the current trend toward detaining more and more young people on remand actually places both the community and young people at greater risk. It proposes concrete strategies which would enable Queensland to reorient its juvenile justice policies to reduce the overuse of detention amongst young people on remand - and make considerable cost savings.
About CAIR CAIR is a coalition of community-based organisations with a social justice focus. The Coalition includes Christian and secular, youth, legal and educational organisations. Together Coalition members employ over 15,000 people, represent over 250 organisations and individuals, and are supported by thousands of volunteers.
CAIR was formed to work together to abolish inappropriate remand in custody of young people in Queensland. The aims of CAIR are:
- To seek a moratorium on building new youth detention centre capacity until a social impact assessment has been completed.
- To undertake research to develop a continuum of responses to address the rates of remand.
- To seek the support of the broader sector from across the state for this continuum of responses.
- To work with the government to advance the responses developed.
This discussion paper should be seen in the context of Coalition members' support for significant wider reforms within the youth justice system. The new Juvenile Justice Act should aim to reduce young people's engagement with the justice system in general, and minimise the damaging affects of detention in particular. At present, however, the juvenile justice system in Queensland criminalises poverty and disadvantage and further discriminates against young people who are often already struggling with every day life.
We believe that it is time for Queensland to lead the way in addressing existing unjust, ineffective and inefficient practices in juvenile justice. (The wider juvenile justice reforms sought by CAIR members are listed in Appendix 1.) In particular, it is time for Queensland to reduce the number of unconvicted young people in custody.
The organisations involved in CAIR are Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (ATSILS), Catholic Education, Prisoners' Legal Service Inc (PLS), Queensland Youth Housing Coalition (QYHC), Sisters Inside, Southside Education, Uniting Care Qld Centre for Social Justice, Youth Advocacy Centre (YAC), Youth Affairs Network of Qld Inc (YANQ), Youth & Family Support Services (YFS).