Young people have been forced to sleep in holding rooms without access to a toilet, bed or running water, according to a report compiled by the Queensland Ombudsman into the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre (BYDC) .
The investigation also revealed allegations that prison staff used a group of inmates to threaten other young people, and "set up" prisoners to be assaulted.
The report examined several complaints from youth detainees in the wake of a “violent and destructive" riot at the centre in January 2017.
It found that the incident occurred amidst growing unrest about a group of prisoners transferred from Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville following a riot at that facility a few months earlier.
Several young people claimed prison staff gave preferential treatment to the Townsville group, and used them as "enforcers" to threaten and assault other inmates.
“While the investigation did not substantiate any specific allegation of a staff member threatening a young person... the weight of evidence indicates that threats of this nature were likely made by some BYDC staff," the report says.
Following the January riot, the seven young people involved were separated, with some held in admission rooms – designed to be temporary holding areas – without beds, running water, bathroom facilities or proper ventilation for up to 10 days.
'Being actually there, it affects you more than what you think it would.'
Sleeping on mattresses on the floor, they had to ask guards for cups of water and to be escorted to the toilet, which could take up to an hour during the night.
“I don’t think they should be allowed to put kids in a box that long, for that long... being actually there, it affects you more than what you think it would," said one anonymous detainee quoted in the report.
"You’re boxed in... All you can do is walk up and down four, five steps and you’re walking up and down. That’s it," said another.
Correctional staff said the admission rooms had to be used because damage from the riot meant no other accommodation options were available.
The ombudsman found "insufficient evidence" to justify the prolonged separation and said the rooms were "clearly unsuitable" for accommodating prisoners for long periods.
He also found a number of instances where these rooms had been used as long-term accommodation for detainees prior to the riot, when other rooms with beds and running water appeared to be available.
Queensland Child Safety Minister, Di Farmer, said the department had already taken steps to address the issues raised in the report, with new leadership at the Brisbane and Townsville youth detention centres, enhanced CCTV coverage and additional accommodation.
She said incidents involving physical violence and alleged assaults had dropped by 40 per cent, while property damage incidents were down 30 per cent since 2016-17.
"The Palaszczuk Government is getting on with the job of ensuring our youth detention centres have the capacity to deal with the growing demand and provide a safer environment for both staff and young people in detention," Ms Farmer said in parliament on Thursday.
The Queensland Government launched its youth justice strategy last year, with a focus on keeping young people out of prison.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth are are 31 times more likely to be held in custody than their non-Indigenous peers.