Two Mt Isa Childrens Court cases that have been published on the Queensland Courts website recently raise serious issues about detention conditions in the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre at Townsville.


In a Judgment published on 25 January 2022 the Mt Isa Childrens Court Magistrate noted in relation to a juvenile offender whose offending was caused by a lack of attachment to positive adult role models, grief, loss and exposure to domestic violence whose parents drank too much and he had a significant cognitive impairment that the conditions at Cleveland Youth Detention Centre were described by a worker there as follows:


  • “Accommodation sections (often) are in night mode, this means that the young people do not leave their cells. Night mode occurs where we have significant staff shortages and cannot bring young people out for daily routine.  When in night mode, young people are provided with basic and safe resources to utilise such as colouring in, find-a-word, puzzles, art and craft activities, trivia, literacy and numeracy activities…the accommodation sections are in continuous cell occupancy, that means that the young people are permitted outside of their cell on a rotational basis.


The Childrens Court Magistrate found that in a unit usually the size of 10 plus children only 4 children at a time would be allowed out of the unit.


The offender was charged with spitting at an officer at a Youth Detention Centre where the offender was aged 16 years.


The spitting occurred during a period of continuous cell occupancy and it has to be seen in the context of a 16 year old person with an intellectual disability in a confined space.


The Magistrate went on to observe “I am concerned that (this) Detention Centre is falling below the standards it ordinarily operates at and those standards must already be seen as the bare minimum of what might be acceptable in a civilised society and they are now falling short of that”


In another Childrens Court case involving Mt Isa where the decision was delivered on 3 February 2022 the same Magistrate observed in respect of that offender who was described as a moderately cognitively impaired 16 year old First Nations young man that in relation to conditions at the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre the Court had been advised that staff shortages meant that children detained there are spending 70% of their time either locked in their cells for 24 hours a day or locked in their units and only able to socialise with three others for a couple of hours at a time.  Children cannot access recreation or education.


Much has been said in the media over the last couple of years about the law and order problems caused in northern cities particularly Townsville by juveniles.


The above two cases provide a rare insight into the unacceptable conditions under which children are being kept at the Townsville Cleveland Youth Detention Centre.


It is no wonder that children kept in these conditions reoffend so shortly after they are released.