Authors

Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak Limited

Background

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a long history of over-representation in the justice systems in Australia.Unfortunately, in Queensland the over-representation of First Nations young people is on an upward trajectory.

The escalating rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people’s over-representation in Queensland’s youth justice system is resulting in significant ongoing trauma for their families and communities around the state. The continued dislocation of their children from their culture and the increasing negative intervention of the state in their lives continues to perpetuate patterns of control that have been present in the daily lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people since colonisation.

A review of Queensland’s youth detention centers concluded that there are “a number of indicators that systemic mistreatment may exist in Queensland Youth Detention Centre,” stating that:

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people represent some of the most vulnerable young people in
Australia. That is prior to any exposure to the climate and institutions of youth detention. It is vital for any
institution to take in to account the unique histories of such young people and effectively respond to them to
ensure they are not exposed to further trauma.”

National research suggests contact with, and particularly incarceration in the criminal justice system further contributes to a range of trauma-based challenges, such as mental health issues and social isolation which often lead people to have contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found youth detention environments to be high-risk institutional settings for sexual abuse, due to a range of factors including the co-location of children and young people of different ages and a lack of access to trusted adults.

International research suggests that correctional environments contain frequent unavoidable triggers for those who have experienced trauma, such as pat downs and restricted movement, and pose a risk of escalating trauma for detainees.

Whilst there is limited discreet research on the impacts of detention on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, research that is available indicates that young people with a trauma history could experience a cumulative impact on their trauma experiences which has the potential to increase their distress and in turn their complex behaviours.

This review identifies key findings in relevant research as an evidence base for QATSICPP’s position paper on Youth Justice, providing a critical platform for advocacy and reform into the future.