The Centre is dismayed by yesterday’s decision by the Councils of Attorney Generals to defer raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years while more time is spent searching for alternative approaches.
This ignores the large body of evidence that already exists. It also means that Australian children as young as 10 years will continue to be put in prison for offending behaviour until the Attorney Generals revisit the issue in 2021.
The evidence is clear – criminalising children is inconsistent with the well documented findings from research on brain development. The United Nations has called on Australian governments to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years to reflect international best practice.
We know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely than other children to be incarcerated. In Victoria, 14.7 per cent of children aged 10-13 years in prison during 2018-19 were Aboriginal.
A large proportion of the children who engage in offending behaviour have experienced hardship, adversity and trauma. Rather than being punished for life circumstances, we need to be providing families with the kind of support that will enable their children to thrive.
We need to adequately fund and roll out evidence based programs that intervene early in a child’s life to prevent entry into the criminal legal system. Research shows this is a much better solution to youth offending than locking children up.
Victoria has committed to creating a world class youth justice system through its Youth Justice Strategy and the development of a new Youth Justice Act. A first step in realising these reforms must be to keep children out of prison. We call on the Victorian government to lead the way in Australia and raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years.
Read our position statement here.