27 JULY 2020

Children and young people will continue to grow up and languish in prison as Australia’s chief lawmakers today missed out on 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 is disappointed to see the lack of urgency and commitment to raise the age of legal responsibility from the age of 10 to 14 years old, which will continue to harm our most disadvantaged and marginalised children.

The majority of kids forced through 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, compared with 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 compared to 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 we 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 to 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:


Media Contact: For interviews or media requests, please contact  Katia Pellicciotta (she/her), YACVic Media and Communications Coordinator on 9267 3744 or on behalf of the SJ4YP Coalition. Interviews available with experts and leaders from the Coalition.

About Smart Justice for Young People: 

Smart Justice for Young People is a coalition of over 40 leading social services, health, legal, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and youth advocacy organisations working together to create change for children and young people who come into contact with the justice system.

The group works together to shift political and public attitudes, to advise government on innovative evidence-based approaches, and to challenge policies and practices that harm young people.

The coalition is informed by the experiences and voices of young people, experienced practitioners on the ground, leading researchers and health experts, and communities across Victoria.