An incident involving an Indigenous boy with a disability who was allegedly stripped naked and held in an adult watch house in Queensland is symptomatic of a broader problem, say disability advocates.
Documents obtained by the ABC claim the boy – who has a neurodevelopmental disability and foetal alcohol spectrum disorder – was pinned down and stripped by officers after he expressed suicidal thoughts.
He was allegedly left naked in the Brisbane watch house for days after he refused to wear a tear-proof garment known as a suicide smock - though Queensland police dispute this account.
Damian Griffis, CEO of the First Peoples Disability Network, says the number of disabled, Indigenous youth in prison is on the rise.
"We’re seeing an increasing criminalisation of disability," he told NITV News today.
"We’re getting reports of these situations happening all around the country, where young Aboriginal people with various impairments and disabilities are ending up in prison... they shouldn't be there at all.
"This is a growing problem and one that all Australians should be deeply distressed by.
"It’s a disgraceful violation of human rights."
People with disabilities represent 18 per cent of the Australian population, but almost half of the prison population.
Almost one in three prisoners are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, with Indigenous people with disabilities "even more likely to end up behind bars", according to Human Rights Watch.
Mr Griffis said Aboriginal disability advocates should be placed within Indigenous legal services to advise on appropriate ways to support First Nations youth with a disability.
Meanwhile, Brisbane-based Indigenous activist Sam Watson has called for an urgent meeting between community Elders, police and state politicians to "teach them the basics of Aboriginal cultural protocols".
"These people have no understanding of that deep sense of shame that boy would be feeling being stripped naked in front of strangers," said Uncle Sam.
"They seem to be putting him on display like some sort of animal in a zoo."
A spokesperson for the Queensland Police Service denied that the boy was stripped naked.
"The juvenile was placed in an isolated cell and provided with a suicide protection garment as is standard QPS custodial practice before being returned to the wing area," Queensland police said in a statement.
"Inquiries indicate the juvenile was not naked and remained clothed throughout, but chose to wear the garment as a sarong for a period of time instead of in the traditional way."
Police say the boy was given access to support services to ensure his wellbeing.
The incident comes as the state government faces ongoing criticism for holding young people in adult watch houses for prolonged periods due to overcrowding in youth detention centres.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has rejected claims that she’s offloaded these issues to police investigators.
"My director-general is doing the comprehensive investigation, but police have to also investigate it because it is in a police watch house and the ethical standards command is doing that," she told media in Townsville.
The state government last month set up a new youth justice department to address ongoing concerns about the treatment of young people in custody.