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Excessive force used on children behind bars, says watchdog

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Queensland children behind bars have suffered fractured bones and dislocated joints at the hands of prison staff using excessive force, an investigation by the Child Guardian has revealed.

In one case, child protection agency the Child Guardian found prison staff had used excessive force to restrain an autistic child weighing just 28 kilograms, after he was found hiding behind a building and refused to return to a program area.

In another incident, staff claimed a child fractured his wrist by hitting the walls and doors of a cell, when CCTV footage showed he had in fact been forced onto his stomach by staff and then taken in a wrist lock to the separation cell.

The child had been involved in a fight with another inmate, in which he was kicked twice in the head, before being restrained by staff.

"Footage shows that when staff remove themselves from the cell, H stands up and begins to nurse his right arm," the report reads. "Footage also shows H, on at least three separate occasions, pressing the button on the intercom system to alert staff."

The report says staff did not answer the child's calls for 43 minutes, and a nurse did not see him for more than an hour.


"There is no evidence on the video footage showing H hit the wall or door with his right hand/arm," it says.

"The resulting injuries are evidence in themselves that excessive force was used."

The critical report by the Child Guardian, published this month, highlights six "significant instances of harm" that occurred in 2009 and 2010 at the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre, which is in the south-western suburb of Wacol, and at the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville.

A child who refused to enter his room and was subsequently held in a wrist lock by staff suffered a dislocated shoulder and a fracture to his upper arm.

The report revealed the actions of prison staff contravened the Youth Justice Regulation 2003, which says reasonable force can only be used to "protect a child, or other persons or property in the centre, from the consequences of the child's misbehaviour".

In contrast, much of the department's training material focuses largely on compliance rather than protection and safety considerations, the report states.

Detention centre training course notes obtained by the Child Guardian say force can be used "when young people are made, against their will, to comply with a reasonable or proper order or direction from a person so authorised to direct or order".

Says the report: "Even if the use of force was lawful and justified in the six incidents, the injuries sustained by the young people indicate that the amount of force used was disproportionate to the risk."

The Child Guardian has recommended the Department of Corrective Services review the lawfulness of the techniques used by staff, particularly in relation to "pain compliance".

"Although [the regulation] specifies that a young person must obey directions it does not actually authorise the use of force to gain compliance from the young person," the Guardian says.