Many of our blogs have discussed the use of excessive force by police officers, but there are also several instances of prison guards abusing their position of power– even, it seems, when dealing with vulnerable children in custody.
The Brisbane Youth Detention Centre has been rocked by allegations that several of its guards brutally bashed an 11-year-old Aboriginal boy in December 2015 – causing two black eyes and a broken cheekbone.
Although the boy was assessed by a nurse on the day of the incident, it was days before he was admitted to hospital and examined by a doctor.
Now, the boy’s family are demanding answers and pushing for the guards involved to be stood down.
The Back Story
At around 3pm on the 15th of December, three guards attended the boy’s cell and accused him of putting toilet paper over security cameras before using the toilet.
The encounter quickly escalated into a violent altercation, with the boy’s mother recounting the version given by her son:
“He said they held him, grabbed his arms to restrain him, but they were holding him too tight so he was moving around a bit…And when he did that they pulled his legs out from under him and he fell on his face. He said that one of them had his legs and one had his arms, and then one of them pulled his hair and slammed his face into the wall.”
The boy was seen by a nurse at the centre – but was not seen by a doctor for three days, when he was finally admitted to Ipswich Hospital.
The boy’s mother says she was given conflicting accounts of what happened to her son by staff when she visited the centre two days after the incident:
“They said he left the smoke alarm sprinkler system on and he slipped on his face…Another [explanation] was that they were restraining him and the guards slipped on water and fell on [him]. One other was that they said that he flooded his unit and that’s how he fell.”
The boy was being held at the facility after allegedly committing several offences and breaching bail. Like many Indigenous kids, he had a rough upbringing – his parents were estranged from each other, and at the age of six, he lost his stepfather and younger siblings in a tragic car accident. It is also believed that the boy had spent time in foster care throughout his childhood.
The boy has since been released on bail and is living in foster care, where he is able to see his mother three times a week. His mother says he has not yet recovered from the traumatic event, and still has nightmares about the incident.
The boy’s father has expressed outrage over the incident, calling for the guards to be stood down and prosecuted for their actions. Speaking to the media last week, he stated:
“If this was an Aboriginal man who done this to a white child, a non-Indigenous child, bloody hell he would be in jail straight away. I don’t want this happening to any other children while they’re in custody.”
Aboriginal Kids in Custody
Although Indigenous kids comprise just 7.5% of all children in Queensland between the ages of 10 and 17, they make up around 65% of the juvenile prison population.
These harrowing statistics are replicated nationwide – it is estimated that Indigenous people comprise around 3% of Australia’s total population, but account for around 28% of the adult prison population, and 48% of juveniles in custody.
As discussed in some of our previous blogs, many experts believe that these high incarceration rates are caused, at least in part, by racial profiling and antagonism at the hands of police, socioeconomic factors such as a lack of financial support, and an inability to access mental health, drug and alcohol services within the community.
Meanwhile, Queensland’s Department of Justice and Attorney-General announced that the incident has been referred for investigation to the Ethical Standards Unit and the Queensland Police Service – although the Department has not yet commented on whether the guards have been stood down or disciplined in any way.