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Boy who stole chocolate bars held in watchhouse for three weeks

“He wouldn’t talk to me about what it was like in the watchhouse, he was too traumatised,” she told Brisbane Times.

“All he did was steal some chocolate bars and deodorant from the 7-11 and he was locked up like a hardened criminal.

“Of course it makes me angry. The government says they are coming in and supporting our children, that is bullshit.”

Annastacia Palaszczuk says she does not want to see children locked up in watchhouses and had promised to build a 32-bed youth detention centre at Wacol and creating 16 more beds at the existing Brisbane Youth Detention Centre.

But on Wednesday, Ms Palaszczuk could not give a timeframe, or even a target, for when children would be moved to safer accommodation.

“I would like to let them out if they were going to secure places, we do not have those secure places available,” she said.

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“I don’t have the facilities.”

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said young offenders would be moved out of watchhouses within 72 hours and placed in “appropriate accommodation” under a proposal her party would put before the Parliament this week.

“Right now kids are being held for up to 40 days in watchhouses across the state,” she said.

“Juveniles must be held accountable for their crimes, but they belong in dedicated facilities instead of maximum-security police watchhouses designed for adults only.

“If Annastacia Palaszczuk has a decent bone in her body she would back our plans.”

Ms Frecklington said construction on demountable houses at the youth detention centre needed to begin immediately.

But Ms Palaszczuk said temporary accommodation did not meet youth justice design standards and would increase the risk of escape, injury and suicide.

“I will not under any circumstances put these young people in irresponsible temporary accommodation where a young person could commit suicide,” she said.

On Wednesday, there were 75 children in watchhouses across the state.

The catalyst for what lawyers say is a “human rights crisis” was Labor’s decision to move 17-year-olds out of adult prisons and into youth detention centres.

But they did not plan for the influx of 17-year-olds into the youth facilities, which has meant children as young as 10 being housed in maximum security watchhouses.

Internal briefing by the Youth Justice Department in 2015 warned even without the shift of 17-year-olds from adult to juvenile facilities, “there was a forecast need for an additional 20 beds by 2020 and for 50 beds every seven years after that”.

Lydia Lynch is a reporter for the Brisbane Times

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