CANBERRA – If you're 17 you are officially a child, but if you seriously break the law in Queensland you could very likely end up in an adult prison.
In what's been described by Amnesty International as a "win for children's human rights," the Queensland Labor Government has flagged legislation to shift 17-year-olds into the youth justice system, in particular removing them from adult prisons.
Queensland is the only state to sentence children in the adult justice system and last week images circulated of a 17-year-old prisoner in a Brisbane jail wearing a spit mask and restraints.
"Today is truly a historic day," Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters in Brisbane.
"You don't get many opportunities as Premier of this state to do something on such an important scale that for decades has been put in the too-hard basket by Governments of both political persuasions."
It's been in the too-hard basket too long. No more. 17 year olds will be in youth detention not adult prisons pic.twitter.com/e3YNxpYVaP— AnnastaciaPalaszczuk (@AnnastaciaMP) September 7, 2016
If enacted, the move would bring the sunshine state into line with the rest of Australia and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The legislation is expected to be introduced next week and, if passed, Ms Palaszczuk has said her aim is to have all 17-year-olds removed from adult prisons within 12 months.
There are about fifty 17-year-olds in adult jails in Queensland at present, while there are 200 17-year-olds under Corrective Services supervision.
A major consideration for the government is the safety of younger children -- some as young as ten -- in the youth justice system.
Amnesty International Australia has praised the announcement as historic and 24 years overdue.
"This is a win for children's human rights," said Amnesty's National Director Claire Mallinson.
"Children deprived of their liberty should be held in conditions appropriate for their age. We welcome that vulnerable children will no longer be held in harsh adult prisons."
As an early gesture, Amnesty wants the state government to immediately stop trying 17-year-olds as adults.