During Parliamentary Budget Estimates on Thursday 3 August 2023, I asked the Director-General for the Department of Youth Justice, Employment, Small Business and Training, and Minister for Youth Justice, about solitary confinement or "separations" in youth prisons.
You can read the answers below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard).
Mr BERKMAN: Recent reporting has shown the extensive use of periods of separation and night mode lockdowns in Queensland’s youth detention centres. I understand from that reporting that separation data does not necessarily reflect the time a child has actually spent locked in their cell but the period during which they are formally under that designation. I think my question is most appropriately to the minister. What data does the department have on the actual amount of time where children are locked in their cells, including cumulative periods across a child’s sentence and broader figures across the state? How is that data collated and reviewed?
Ms FARMER: If you had asked me about the number of separations, I would have been able to give you that answer. For that level of detail, if the member is okay and through the chair I will refer to my director-general.
Mr BERKMAN: Absolutely, and I would welcome the information on separation numbers as well.
Mr Gee: I have recently just come back to the role. I know the Queensland Ombudsman has been doing work since late 2022. He provided an initial report to the department. There were policy changes. One of the recommendations he made was to upgrade the ICT system. Largely, we have been using manual-based approaches to record, and that has a significant impact on our ability to draw information down. I met with the Queensland Ombudsman. I spoke to him a number of times over the last few weeks. I met with him on Monday with the senior executive director of youth detention services. I had cause to change the policy and tighten it last week after having talked to the Ombudsman. I advised him that I had made an independent decision to tighten that policy and to make sure that we are in a space, no matter whether it was manual recording or moving towards an ICT solution, where we were better equipped. We have spent a significant amount of time, effort and money well spent in the last few months, I am advised, so that we should in the next few months have a much better ICT system. We need that for transparency and accountability. I would add though that the government has invested a significant amount of money in terms of body worn cameras, CCTV footage and the like, and services to those young people. The number of incidents I think is about 4,170-odd over the 12-month period. To be really frank, a quarter of them have been as a result of staff absences so we have worked really hard in that space. I would welcome all of the committee to help us get the word out that youth justice is a great place to work. We are really keen on recruiting. At this stage from memory we have fewer than 12 FTE vacancies, which is a significant improvement on where we were three to four months ago.