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Media Release: Tragedy demands a smart response for a safer Queensland

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 30 December 2022

The Justice Reform Initiative is deeply alarmed by the Queensland Government’s announcement of two new youth detention facilities and harsher penalties for children in the criminal justice system – political decisions which ignore the evidence of what actually works to improve community safety.

The 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 – has called on the Queensland government to pause and consult on the best approach to prevent crimes such as that which has resulted in the tragic death of Emma Lovell.

“It’s understandable that in the face of such a tragedy, there will be calls for tougher penalties and reforms to prevent such a terrible act from happening again,” said Dr Mindy Sotiri, Executive Director of the Justice Reform Initiative.

“And of course, there must be consequences for such a crime. But we need to really think about what we’re trying to achieve in terms of community safety.

“The evidence is very clear that we cannot imprison our way to a safer society. Imprisonment itself is criminogenic. That is, the experience of imprisonment makes it more likely that someone will commit more crime.

“We know that building new prisons won’t keep the community safe in the long term. There is overwhelming evidence that youth detention does not work to deter crime, rehabilitate, or make communities safer.

“The evidence shows almost all young people who are imprisoned in youth detention in Queensland reoffend within 12 months. The Queensland Government’s plan to build two new youth detention centres, when we know that locking up children increases the likelihood of them committing crime in the future, is not being ‘tough on crime’ – it is ignoring the evidence.

“’Tough on crime’ approaches might be politically popular in the short term but will not deliver results. Queensland needs a smart approach to genuinely address crime and improve community safety.”

Dr Sotiri noted that Queensland already imprisoned the highest number of children Australia-wide, with the youth prison population increasing by 27.3% over the past seven years.

“It’s clear that this approach isn’t working - locking up more children is not the answer,” she said. “It’s not tough on crime – it’s opening the door for future reoffending, and at enormous cost to the taxpayer.

“Building new prisons costs hundreds of millions of dollars - Queensland taxpayers would be far better served by investment in early intervention, early prevention, diversion, and evidence-based alternatives outside of the youth justice system. It’s time for a smarter approach based on evidence of what actually works to stop children coming into contact with the criminal justice system and helps them on the path to a better future.

“We urge the Queensland Government to urgently pause these important policy decisions, consult and review the evidence on youth justice which so clearly shows that harsher laws and more children in prison will lead to worse outcomes for the state.”

The Justice Reform Initiative is a national alliance supported by more than 120 patrons, 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.

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


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.

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