A former youth detention worker says Queensland’s justice department failed to act on concerns about abuse at Townsville’s Cleveland Youth Detention Centre she raised with them earlier this year. Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath ordered a review into allegations of abuse at the Townsville centre on Friday.
The decision followed the Prime Minister’s decision to set up a royal commission into abuse in the Northern Territory’s juvenile justice system.
In the days after the Four Corners investigation aired in July, Ms D’Ath said there was “no evidence of systemic problems or abuse in Queensland [youth detention centres]”.
However, former youth detention worker Shayleen Solomon said she told a senior bureaucrat in the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General in April this year about excessive use of force at the Townsville centre.
“I brought to his attention about the way they are using excessive force on the young people — the way that the young girls are being restrained, the way that the young boys are being restrained — I actually brought to his attention about one young girl that had a suspected fractured jaw,” she said.
Ms Solomon, who worked at the centre for about five years and left in 2012, said the department had not acted on issues she had raised.
“Not at all … [the bureaucrat’s] words to me were that he would go back and do some recommendations … and the recommendations would be sent back to Cleveland,” she said.
“I sat opposite a table at the youth detention centre because I emailed the [senior bureaucrat] and asked if he would give me the time to meet with me about my concerns, because the Indigenous community of Townsville have a right to know what is happening to their Indigenous children in there.”
ABC TV’s 7.30 program this week aired CCTV images from the Townsville centre of a girl in a swimming pool being threatened by security guards with an unmuzzled dog in 2015.
It also revealed images of a 17-year-old boy being held face down by five adults, handcuffed, ankle-cuffed, stripped naked and left alone in isolation for more than an hour.
Townsville Deputy Mayor Les Walker said it was concerning it took an ABC investigation using the State Government’s own internal reports to spark a review.
“That only goes to show that maybe the communication process upwards to departmental heads or ministers is not happening,” he said.
“The story breaking the way it did shines a spotlight on it, but also highlights to the Minister that there are issues not only in the institution, but maybe in the department itself that it is failing to report upwards and that is a very serious concern.”
Councillor Walker worked at the Cleveland centre until 2010 and said there needed to be a focus on restorative justice.
He said improving rehabilitation of detainees must be included in the review.
“Offenders are sent to those facilities as punishment for their indiscretions or offending behaviour – not for further punishment,” he said.
“I think we need to be looking at how these facilities are structured to make sure that no further damage is actually occurring to these individuals.”
Limitations already put on review, youth network says
Siyavash Doostkhah, the director of the Youth Affairs Network of Queensland, said in a statement he had serious concerns that the Queensland Government was refusing to acknowledge the need for a royal commission.
He said the Government was trying to “pull wool over public’s eyes by calling yet another review”.
“Only a royal commission will have the ability to call and cross-examine witnesses, obtain evidence, while also providing protection to witnesses and inquiry members from legal action such as defamation,” he said in the statement.
Mr Doostkhah said Queensland’s Attorney-General had already put limitations on its review and was trying to limit its scope to the allegations aired on TV.
“What we saw on the ABC 7.30 and Lateline programs this week were the tip of the iceberg and any attempt to limit investigations to what was aired is nothing less than an attempt to cover up much larger problems that have permeated all aspects of the youth justice system in Queensland for a long time,” he said.
“If the Attorney-General wants to regain the confidence of the public in the youth justice system, she should accept that the best way to get to the bottom of all problems in the system and to use the opportunity for genuine reform is to support establishing a royal commission.”
A spokesperson for the Attorney-General said the youth justice system had “multi-layered oversight processes” to address complaints.
“Its handling of investigations and their outcomes is transparent within the bounds of a youth justice system that rightly protects the privacy of the young people with whom it deals,” the spokesperson said.
“Youth justice operates a zero-tolerance policy towards the use of excessive or unauthorised force. Staff found to have use have used excessive or unauthorised force have been dismissed.”
The spokesperson said Queensland’s youth justice system was very different to that operating in the Northern Territory.
The Queensland Government’s review will be completed by November and it is hoped it will release the full terms of reference for the review in the next week.
Ms D’Ath said on Friday she was looking to appoint a man and a woman to undertake the Government’s review of youth detention centres.