Human rights abuses against kids
in The Brisbane City police watch house

Life for a kid in Brisbane’s adult watch house is not only frightening, and brutal, it also breaches domestic and international law.

Content Warning: contains descriptions of suicide, sexuaL harassment,mistreatment and violence against children.


Amnesty International has analysed hundreds of official government documents obtained through multiple Right To Information applications. These documents revealed 2655 breaches of international standards, Queensland regulations and the Queensland Police Operational Procedures Manual against children as young as 10 in the Brisbane City Watch House.

This information helped inform ABC’s Four Corners episode, Inside the Watch House: Kids behind bars.



As of 13 May 2019, there were 89 children in the Brisbane City police watch house, a facility designed to hold adults. At least three of these children were just ten years of age. One of the boys had been there for 43 days, despite Queensland law dictating no child may stay even one night in the Brisbane watch house. Four young girls were being held in isolation, to protect them from other inmates. At least half of these children are Indigenous.

Watch houses are built to hold adults for short periods of time after they are arrested, while they wait for their court hearing. They are staffed by police officers, and are generally attached to and run by police stations. They are not places children were ever meant to be kept in for more than a couple of hours — and definitely not for days, weeks or months.

The cells of the Brisbane City police watch house are very small. There is no direct sunlight. All a child has inside their cell is a wafer-thin mattress, and often no pillow. Each cell is designed for one person, but overcrowding means that kids are often locked up with another person, sometimes much older than them.


The documents Amnesty gained tell stories of cell doors malfunctioning, closing on and in one case, severing a child’s fingers. Water fountains are covered in a green calcified substance, making them foul to use. The design of the watch house means that children are sometimes kept in the eye-line of adult inmates, causing many children immense anxiety.

Why are children in
watch houses?

Watch houses are being used as a stop-gap to compensate for an at-capacity youth prison system and Queensland’s notoriously backlogged Children’s Court.

Of the children in Queensland prisons, approximately 86 per cent are currently ‘on remand’ — this means they are locked up even though they have not been found guilty or sentenced. And the situation is worse for Indigenous kids. They spend an average of 71 days in detention on remand, compared with 50 days for non-Indigenous children.

Kids were never meant to be in watch houses. Watch houses like Brisbane City are not properly resourced or regulated to care for children. While youth prisons in Queensland are held to account by the Youth Justice Act, the same laws do not apply to watch houses. For example, while a child in a youth prison may only be subjected to a half-and-half strip-search, the very same child may be completely strip searched by watch house police.



Amnesty’s investigation uncovered 2655 breaches of domestic and international law, including keeping children in watch houses for illegal durations; failing to provide children with adequate clean clothes, underwear and personal hygiene products; the institutional use of violence; the use of isolation as a form of punishment; failure to provide adequate health and mental health care; and failure to provide access to adequate education.

breaches of international and state and standards and regulations

  • Misuses of watch house:698
  • Misuses of watch house:698
  • Misuses of watch house:698
  • Misuses of watch house:698
  • Misuses of watch house:698
  • Misuses of watch house:698
  • Misuses of watch house:698
  • Misuses of watch house:698
  • Misuses of watch house:698
  • Misuses of watch house:698
  • Misuses of watch house:698
  • Misuses of watch house:698
  • Misuses of watch house watch house:698

Click here to view how these figures were calculated

While the human rights violations detailed below come only from the Brisbane City Watch House, Amnesty has reports from organisations, children and families which confirm that the same things are happening to children in many of Queensland’s 326 other watch houses.


Illegal duration of incarceration and poor resourcing

Amnesty obtained evidence of children being held in the Brisbane City police watch house for days, weeks and even months. We also uncovered evidence of poor resourcing, including not providing adequate clean clothes, underwear, shampoo and conditioner, and an instance of police telling a child to choose between clean clothes and a phone call to family.


Amnesty received proof of the complaint the Community Visitor made after speaking with Jake. Community Visitors are independent representatives who speak to children in the care of the state to ensure that their welfare is properly protected.

Unfortunately, Jake’s experience is not uncommon for children in Brisbane’s watch house more…

Amnesty encountered many stories indicating the poorly-resourced nature of Brisbane City Watch House. more…

Amnesty received this email exchange between the Community Visitor, and a member of the Watchhouse Response Team.

In it, the Manager explained: