The state government has been urged to hold a public forum to detail its plans to establish a “youth jail” in Caloundra as community concerns escalate.
This comes as business leaders fear the facility will tarnish the area’s reputation as a safe, family holiday destination by creating the perception it has an alarmingly high youth crime rate. It also follows a unanimously supported motion at a Sunshine Coast Council meeting in late July opposing the location of the facility.
The State appears to be pushing on with plans to “repurpose” the Caloundra Watchhouse as a 28- to 30-bed youth remand centre, where young people accused of crimes and denied bail could spend a month or more awaiting trial. It is expected to cost $16.4 million.
Thousands of residents have signed a petition against what has been described by resident groups as a “youth jail”.
Councillor Terry Landsberg says he has sent a request to Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs senior executive director Michael Drane requesting a public forum, adding this follows “overwhelming” feedback from community groups and individuals worried about the plan and the way it is being advanced with little consultation.
He says an invite-only meeting between some community groups and departmental officials in late September has not eased the tension. “This is all about an unsuitable location that we’ve identified and there are a host of different concerns we’ve raised,” he says. “Nothing in that meeting … has changed my view and the view of people that attended. This is not a good fit for our town.”
Cr Landsberg says the community must have access to a forum before a 15-day submission period comes into effect.
“A sign will go up for a proposed works order out the front of the watchhouse and it will be up there for 15 working days. Once that sign goes up, that’s a period when the community can put their submissions in.”
No date has yet been confirmed for when this period will begin, but Cr Landsberg believes it will be soon.
Earlier this month, a spokesperson for the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs said community engagement regarding changing the existing Caloundra Watchhouse to a youth remand facility occurred in July and August.
The departmental spokesperson says feedback from community engagement will form part of an Environment Assessment Report (EAR) and be used
to inform the final planning decision to be made by the Minister for State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning.
Caloundra Chamber of Commerce president Michael Shadforth fears the youth remand centre will “tarnish” Caloundra’s reputation.
He says it is important to note the facility is not a result of local crime statistics and he wants further transparency from the state government on how it will operate.
“We don’t want people to think they are coming to a high crime area. That’s really critical,” Mr Shadforth says.
“If you look at the crime stats from Caloundra there’s no need to have this facility for crimes on the Sunshine Coast, or in Caloundra. Our youth crime rate isn’t at a point where we need this facility.”
Mr Shadforth says he welcomes investment in the region but says he would rather see more police resources than a youth remand centre.
Caloundra MP Jason Hunt recently moved to allay concerns with leaflets titled The Facts – forget the spin, being distributed in surrounding suburbs by volunteers.
In the leaflet, he says the centre will remain secure and “young people are not permitted to leave and will remain closed off from the public”. “The centre will only be used when Queensland’s three youth detention centres are at capacity and space is needed to house young people on remand temporarily.”
Mr Hunt’s leaflet says the facility will not be staffed by police, but by Youth Justice personnel.