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17 Year-olds in Prison is no Minor Matter!

The Uniting Church in Queensland has condemned practice of jailing minors in adult prisons.

Uniting Church’s annual Synod meeting denounced the State Government for continuing to ignoring international conventions and its own commitments dating back to 1992.

UnitingCare’s Queensland Director, Anne Cross said the practice of incarcerating seventeen year olds in adult prisons is a breach of our international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“As far back as 1992 the Queensland Labor Government made a commitment to end the practice,” said Ms Cross. “No other Australian state subjects children to adult prisons and this must stop.”

Justice spokesperson Andrew Johnson explained to the Synod that there was no legislative amendment required to implement this change. “The Government has passed the legislation, fifteen years ago; all they have to do is make the provision operational.”

The Synod meeting, which speaks for the Uniting Church throughout Queensland, asked the Moderator, Rev David Pitman, to write to the Premier expressing the church’s dissatisfaction with the current practice and requesting an immediate change.

The church’s Justice and International Mission Advocate, Andrew Johnson visited Queensland prisons with Mr Pitman only a few weeks ago.

“The church holds a moral responsibility to stand with the marginalised,” said Mr Johnson. “In this case we seek to stand up for some of the most vulnerable in our society, children, and advocate for their fair treatment in the criminal justice system.”

In supporting the decision Ms Cross said, “Over the past eighteen months in particular we have engaged in public advocacy in relation to the criminal justice arena especially corrective services.

“Central to that work are the aims of diverting people from entering the prison system and of trying to increase the meagre post-prison supports currently available to Queenslanders.

“We pursue these aims so as to minimise the harm that prison does to prisoners, families, and our communities.

“Various arms of our church have been and continue to be engaged with this work including the Centre for Social Justice, Lifeline Community Care Queensland, Prison Chaplains, the Justice and International Mission Advocate, the Moderator, and many others.

“If children cannot vote, sit on juries, drink alcohol, buy cigarettes, enter marriage, undertake foreign travel, make wills, get tattoos, be parties to lawsuits, or decide on medical treatment until they become eighteen, they should not be treated as adults under criminal law,” said Ms Cross.

“Being exposed to adult prisons only increases their chances of remaining in the system and becoming re-offenders”.