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Amnesty International analysed hundreds of documents obtained through multiple Right To Information applications in Queensland. This investigation helped inform ABC’s Four Corners episode, Inside the Watch House: Kids behind bars.

| Content warning: abuse of children, suicide attempts |


17 July: the Queensland Government announced that there were no children being held in Brisbane City Watch House. This is an important milestone on the journey of fixing Queensland's broken justice system and ensuring that children aren't kept in the harmful conditions of watch houses. However, the government has not legislated to stop children from staying in watch houses overnight. We're calling on the Queensland Government to ban overnight detention of kids in police watch houses as well.

June: The Queensland Government has introduced legislation that will significantly improve the bail system for children. This means that the government won’t have to rely on harmful watch houses to detain children. But until the new laws pass, kids are at still risk. The government must act to ensure children are safe in its care.

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Watch houses are no place for kids to spend their childhoods. Kids deserve to be in a classroom, with their friends, family, and community. 

Our investigation into Brisbane's watch house uncovered stories of children at risk of suicide held in isolation for days. Of fingers severed in maximum security doors. Of kids forced to choose between clean clothes and phone calls to their families. Of four young girls held in damaging isolation because they are not safe with adult inmates. And of children suffering without access to health care and education. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Watch houses should only hold adults for short periods of time while they wait for their court hearing. These places were never meant to hold children. 

It's a human rights crisis as big as Don Dale, and Indigenous kids are worst affected. 

Our investigation uncovered 2,655 breaches of domestic and international law, including:

  • illegally keeping children in watch houses for days, weeks and months when they are not meant to be held for even one night;
  • the institutional use of violence;
  • the use of isolation as a form of punishment;
  • failure to provide children with adequate clean clothes, underwear and personal hygiene products;
  • failure to provide adequate health and mental health care; and
  • failure to provide access to adequate education.  

While these violations all happened in the Brisbane City Watch House, our reports confirm these same things are happening to kids in many of Queensland’s 326 other police watch houses and lock ups.

Keeping children in any form of prison starves them of a childhood and impacts their development. Governments must fund community-led solutions that keep children out of prisons, raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 and reduce the number of children on remand.

Call on the Minister to stop keeping children overnight in watch houses immediately, and to invest in community programs that keep kids out of prison altogether.

Sign the petition

  Our Petition


Dear Minister, 

Children don’t belong in police watch houses. 

Prison should always be used as a last resort. If a child is put behind bars, they should have access to a proper education, health and mental health services, meaningful human contact, healthy food and opportunities to exercise. 

I call on you to immediately announce that children will no longer be held overnight in police watch houses. 

I also call on your government to urgently facilitate the reassessment of all children on remand, and support the release of children to families and/or to the community where safe to do so. 

I also call on you to:

-Strengthen prevention and diversion programs and make the necessary legislative reforms to enable these programs to be suitable alternative sentences that magistrates can use

-Immediately raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least fourteen years of age

-Significantly expand supervised bail accommodation services to ensure that children have access to therapeutic wrap-around services that address underlying causal factors of criminal behaviour

 Yours Sincerely,