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Media release: Race to the bottom – misusing police watch houses not the answer to youth crime or overcrowding

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 24 August 2023

The Queensland Government’s underhanded move to allow children to be detained in adult prisons and police watch houses is irresponsible, misguided, and will not improve community safety.  

The Justice Reform Initiative – a multi-partisan alliance supported by more than 120 eminent Australians including former premiers and attorneys-general, judges, prosecutors, youth justice experts and respected Aboriginal leaders – said rushing through changes that over-ride human rights laws and bypass public scrutiny failed to stand up as a solution to overcrowding or youth crime rates.

“Misusing police watchhouses to cater for increasing numbers of children being churned through the justice system is an absolutely misguided approach,” said Dr Mindy Sotiri, Executive Director of the Justice Reform Initiative. 

“Queensland already locks up more children than anywhere else in Australia, and it is not working. It is not working to reduce crime, it is not working to deter crime, and it is certainly not working to keep the community safe. 

“To address overcrowding, we need to address the drivers of over-crowding – including the knee-jerk policy responses that drive up over-incarceration. And we need to address the drivers of crime.  We need strategies that divert children away from the justice system, rather than simply creating capacity to lock more kids up. The evidence is very clear; sending children to prison ultimately increases the risk of re-offending and creates a pipeline into adult prisons.

“Queensland is crying out for leadership, and for a response that genuinely makes communities safe. Blatantly disregarding human rights laws to create more room for children in adult facilities is not the answer.”

Queensland’s overall incarceration rate is the fastest growing in the country, rising 44% over the last 10 years. Queensland’s rate of children’s incarceration has also grown faster than any other jurisdiction in Australia.

There were 267 children in prison on an average night last year in Queensland – a significantly higher figure than states with larger populations.

The annual operating cost of imprisoning children in Queensland is $218 million and the two new detention centres planned in the state are set to cost taxpayers more than $1 billion.

The Justice Reform Initiative recently released a report examining the strong evidence base for alternatives to incarceration in Queensland, including existing programs which are delivering significant results in reducing reoffending.

The initiative is calling for governments around Australia to move away from an entrenched reliance on incarceration as the mainstay of the criminal justice system and adopt an evidence-based approach to deliver better results for taxpayers, communities, and people in the criminal justice system.

For more information and a list of patrons of the Justice Reform Initiative visit

Media contact:  Amy Price 0437 027 156


The Initiative respectfully acknowledges and supports the current and longstanding efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to reduce the numbers of Indigenous people incarcerated in Australia and, importantly, the leadership role which Indigenous-led organisations continue to play on this issue. We also acknowledge the work of many other individuals and organisations seeking change, such as those focused on the rate of imprisonment for women, people with mental health issues, people with disability and others.

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