Children and young people will continue to grow up and languish in prison, after Australia’s chief lawmakers today missed a crucial opportunity to raise the age of legal responsibility from 10 to 14.
Smart Justice for Young People, a coalition of social services, health, legal, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and youth advocacy organisations and academic experts, of which the Centre is a part, is disappointed to see the lack of urgency and commitment to raising the age of legal responsibility from 10 to 14. This will continue to harm our most disadvantaged and marginalised children.
The majority of kids forced into the criminal legal system at this young age have experienced neglect, trauma and abuse and been let down by institutions and adults.
Successive Royal Commissions and inquiries into failing youth legal systems have revealed punitive practices within youth prisons, including solitary confinement and routine strip searching, that harm children and reinforce the very factors that lead to offending.The alternative is community-based services that support children to reach their potential.
Medical and psychological evidence shows that ages 10 to 13 are a critical stage in a child’s development. Children this young have not yet developed emotional, mental and intellectual maturity and have limited capacity to think through the consequences of their actions.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are imprisoned at ten times the rate of non-Aboriginal children in Victoria, due to differential treatment, the criminalisation of disadvantage, and trauma and untreated health needs. The criminal legal system does not hold the answers to strengthening and supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families; the solutions lie within families, communities and culture.
The alternatives to prison already exist, and Smart Justice for Young People will continue advocating to raise the age to 14, and for greater investments into programs and services which support children and young people across education, mentoring, parenting programs and mental health services.
We need to shift away from prisons and police, including a reinvestment of funds into culturally appropriate community services which will help address the factors contributing to offending behaviour and which build stronger, healthier families, positive connection and belonging.
If Australia truly wants to be a leader in human rights and offer a fair go to all, then we must raise the age to 14 and stop putting children as young as 10 in prison.
Sign the petition to #RaiseTheAge: www.raisetheage.org.au