Child advocates urge million-dollar diversion

Young person in handcuffs. | Newsreel
Youth justice polices which focus on detention don't ensure community safety , according to child advocates. | Photo: Kali 9 (iStock)

It costs one million dollars a year to keep a child in jail, money which could be better spent on preventative measures, according to child advocates.

Both the National Children’s Commissioner and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner have criticised youth justice polices announced in the Queensland election campaign, where both the ALP and LNP have promised tougher action on youth offenders. including more instances of jail time.

National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds said political parties needed to show courage by acting on the evidence that locking up children did not keep the community safer.

“Queensland already has the toughest youth crime laws in the country which has only led to overflowing children’s prisons and police watchhouses, and egregious breaches of human rights,” Commissioner Hollonds said.

“Knee-jerk, punitive solutions by political parties which boast about being tough on crime are not only failing to deal with the root causes but are contributing to more crime – not less,” she said.

Commissioner Hollonds said it cost over $1 million per year to lock up a child.

“That money is being wasted when it could instead be spent on keeping kids healthy, in housing, out of poverty and at school learning, as this is what works to keep the community safe.

“If we were serious about addressing this national problem, then National Cabinet would make child safety and wellbeing a key priority, as it has done with other critical issues such as women’s safety,” said Commissioner Hollonds.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Katie Kiss said First Nations children were disproportionately affected by the “tough on crime” approach and these “sloganised” approaches only served to perpetuate racial profiling and negative stereotyping.

“Governments need to make better decisions based on evidence that ensure First Nations children get the start they need in life so they can enjoy better life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity and respects their right to self-determination,” Commissoner Kiss said.

“State and national governments’ approaches to child justice are instead condemning First Nations children to a lifetime of abuse, deprivation and disadvantage – a cycle that can repeat from generation to generation.”

She said governments around the country had made commitments to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage and it was time they were held accountable for delivering on their promises.