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Youth Detention

Young offenders aged between 10 and 18 can be sentenced to a period of detention in Queensland if they are found guilty of an offence. They can also be remanded in a youth detention centre if they are refused bail. Queensland has two youth detention centres, the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre in Wacol and the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville.

When a young offender is held in detention, they are provided with education and medical care and are allowed to make phone calls and send letters. Family and friends may visit children in youth detention, but visits must be arranged in advance. Visits are allowed every day of the week, during specified hours.

Alternatives to youth detention

As the paramount consideration when sentencing a juvenile for a criminal offence is the rehabilitation of the young offender, sentences of detention are imposed only as a last resort when more lenient sentencing options are not appropriate.

A range of non-custodial sentences for juveniles are available in Queensland, including Good Behaviour Bonds, fines and community-based orders.

Age of criminal liability

A child under 10 cannot be charged with an offence in Queensland as the age of criminal liability is 10.

Turning 18 in youth detention

If a young person turns 18 while serving a sentence of detention, they will be transferred to an adult prison. However, a young person will not be transferred to an adult prison if they have less than six months to serve in detention after their eighteenth birthday.

If a young person is remanded in youth detention when they turn 18, they will remain in youth detention until they are sentenced or until the charge is dismissed.

Human rights and youth detention

Australia is a signatory to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which sets out the rights of children, including the right to privacy, freedom of religion and the right of a child not to be separated from his or her parents.

Children in youth detention must not receive adverse treatment because of their race, religion, gender, sexuality or disability.

Children in detention must be allowed to see a doctor, nurse or mental health professional when required. They must be allowed to go to school or complete training while in detention and to participate in rehabilitation programs.


A child in detention or his or her parents can make a complaint about something that has happened in detention. A complaint can also be made about a staff member or about another young person in detention. Complaints can be made to the Queensland government or to the Office of the Public Guardian. 

After a young person has been released from detention they can make a complaint about something that occurred while they were in detention.

Law reform

In 2016, a report on Queensland’s youth detention system was released. The report found that the centres were understaffed, that staff had inadequate training and that security was poor, with detainees frequently covering over CCTV cameras. The report acknowledged that young people in detention are frequently the victims of complex trauma and that this should be taken into account when implementing reforms. Since this report was tabled, the Queensland government has spent millions of dollars on improving its youth detention centres.

Controversy has surrounded youth detention around Australia in recent years after poor conditions and mistreatment of detainees in the Don Dale Detention Centre focussed public attention on this issue.

Children’s rights advocates have long been calling for the age of criminal liability to be raised in Australia, arguing that criminalising and detaining young people further disadvantages marginalised communities and increases the chances of the young person reoffending later in life.

Opponents of incarceration have long been calling for justice reinvestment to be adopted as an alternative to imposing punitive custodial sentences. Justice reinvestment is a criminal justice model where funds are directed back into the communities that have produced offenders to create infrastructure and supports, rather than being spent on imprisoning people. Justice reinvestment initiatives have been trialled around the world, including in Australia.

If you require legal advice or representation in relation to a criminal matter or any other legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal. 

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

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