Skip navigation

Media Release: SA Government must vote today to stop children being held in adult watchhouses

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 15 November 2023

The Malinauskas Government has been urged to ‘walk the talk’ on its commitment to closing the gap, by taking an important stand and voting down the proposed Young Offenders Regulations in Parliament today.

The Justice Reform Initiative – a multi-partisan alliance which includes former parliamentarians from all sides of politics, as well as respected Aboriginal leaders, judicial figures, and community experts – said the new regulations would keep the door open for children as young as 10 to be held alongside adults in conditions that could cause long-term harm.

Regulation 9 of the regulations provides that children as young as 10 who are arrested more than 40 kilometres from the General Post Office in Adelaide may be detained in an adult watch-house or lock-up. Under this allowance, police detained children in adult watch-houses or lock ups more than 2,000 times in 2021-22. Police detained Aboriginal children 890 times using these regulations during that time.

The regulations allow children in regional centres such as Gawler, Mt Gambier, Whyalla, Murray Bridge, Victor Harbor, Port Lincoln, Port Pirie and Port Augusta to be detained alongside adults and without appropriate oversight.

Today’s vote comes amid nationwide scrutiny of the conditions for children who are detained. The Queensland Government is racing to open a child-specific watchhouse after tightening laws and increasing the number of children in the criminal justice system, while a Tasmanian inquiry has shone a spotlight on the horrific abuse and neglect of children there.

South Australian Attorney-General Kyam Maher told Parliament in September 2023, in answer to a question from Greens Rob Simms MLC, that “…there has been very significant media attention on some of the difficulties with the Tasmanian Youth Detention system, which I am not sure are necessarily present in the South Australian system”. 

But the latest report from Training Centre Visitor Shona Reid, released this month, highlights how far this statement is from reality, laying bare the ‘difficulties’ in the South Australian system through the views and lived experience of the children who are detained at Cavan. These ‘difficulties’ are also present when children are detained in adult watchhouses.

The Justice Reform Initiative’s SA Advocacy and Campaign Coordinator (Children and Young People) Lorna Robinson said the government needed to take a stand to protect children.

“Children don't belong in prisons and they certainly do not belong in adult watchhouses,” she said. “Continuing to allow children to be exposed to these environments and conditions only perpetuates injustice and harm.

“The figures also show that Aboriginal children are disproportionately affected by this punitive policy position, flying in the face of efforts to close the gap.

“The rate at which South Australian children and young people are being isolated and having their mental health impacted, as seen in the Training Centre Visitor’s Annual Report, is deeply concerning.

“These issues aren't new, but it's time we confront them head-on. Policymakers must keep children and young people out of watchhouses and advocate for a system that safeguards their rights, wellbeing, and future.”


NOTE: Request to the Media, Stakeholders, and Politicians: This press release contains representations of the lives of children and young people. Behind each statistic is a child, whose whole life and self is more than the sum of one experience. When reporting or commenting on these matters we ask you do so in that context.  The Training Centre Visitor and the Justice Reform Initiative encourages reference to key best practice guidelines when reporting on information relating to the detention of children, including Mindframe’s Reporting suicide and mental ill-health: A Mindframe resource for media professionals (2020)


About the Justice Reform Initiative

The Justice Reform Initiative is a multi-partisan alliance supported by more than 120 of our most eminent Australians, including two former Governors-General, former Members of Parliament from all sides of politics, academics, respected Aboriginal leaders, senior former judges, including High Court judges, and others who have added their voices to end Australia’s dangerously high reliance on jails. 

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.

Media contact: Pia Akerman 0412 346 746

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.

Continue Reading

Read More