Children Locked Up in Horror Watch Houses

Imagine you are 10 years old. You are sitting on a cold floor in a small cell. You are surrounded by four concrete walls under a mesh roof. There is no sunlight. There is no contact with loved ones. There is no escape. Beside you is a thin mattress with no pillow. The water fountain is covered in green fungi. The food is little. And two other children, much older than you, are locked up in the same cell. This is day 30. And this is the reality of hundreds of children who are being held in maximum security watch houses each year.

Four Corners’ Recent Findings

The brutal detention of children as young as 10 years of age is seriously disturbing and illegal. Four Corners, who have actively investigated the child detention crisis, obtained more than 500 files of child inmates who spent time at Queensland’s watch house between January 2018 and March 2019. The files’ revelations included:

  • a girl inmate had her finger cut off by a door.
  • a young girl was placed in a pod with two alleged male sex offenders.
  • children, in risk of harming themselves, were placed alone in a padded observation cell and forced to wear a suicide smock.

This wicked treatment of children is an utter national disgrace and serves no purpose to contributing to their rehabilitation or reducing recidivism.

What is a watch house?

Watch houses are designed to hold the most dangerous of criminals for short periods of time before their court hearing.

Watch houses, typically attached to a police station and run by police officers, often fail to meet the minimum standards for the treatment of suspected criminals. Poor facility conditions and ill-equipped staff have greatest impact on persons suffering from mental or health issues. Under corrective services laws, adults should not generally be held in a watch house for more than three weeks. However, there is no time limit for children in youth justice laws as it was never expected they would be held for sustained periods of time in watch houses.

Breach of Domestic and International Laws

The detainment of children in police watch houses contravenes domestic and international laws. Amnesty International, who obtained official government documents, found 2,655 breaches of international standards, Queensland regulations and Queensland Police Operational Procedures Manual against children as young as 10 in the Brisbane City Watch House.

Under QLD law, no child may stay even one night in the Brisbane watch house. Additionally, a series of articles under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are contravened by the detainment of children in police watch houses.

Most notably, article 37 of the Convention states children who break the law should not be treated cruelly. They should not be put in a prison with adults and should be able to keep in contact with their family. Additionally, article 3 states all organisations concerned with children should work towards what is best for each child, and article 36 states children should be protected from any activities that could harm their development. Clearly, Australian watch houses have missed the mark.

Current-Day Status of Children in Watch Houses

As of today (May 13, 2019), there are 89 children held in the Brisbane City police watch house. At least three of these children are ten years old, and one child has been locked there for 43 days. Some of these child offences range from serious crimes like assault and break and enter, while others are on remand or have been charged with minor crimes.

Queensland’s Minister for Child Safety, Di Farmer, told Four Corners that the Government is planning to reduce the number of children in watch houses but there are no alternatives at the moment. This is just a snapshot of the mistreatment of children across the nation, where about 60% of children in detention on an average day are unsentenced (i.e. awaiting their sentencing and legal outcome). It must be stressed, the detainment of children in a watch house is a brutal and traumatising experience that has detrimental consequences to a child’s rights and liberties.

Brisbane City Watch House