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 calling on our chief lawmakers to commit to raising the age of legal responsibility from the age of 10 to 14 years at the Council of Attorneys-General (CAG) meeting on 27 July.
Chief lawmakers have a crucial opportunity to improve the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged and marginalised children. This law change will close off prisons as a response for children who are at a crucial stage of development in their young lives.
Prison is not a place for children and young people to grow up in, especially with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With two confirmed cases in Victorian youth prisons, there is an urgent need to raise the age so that children under 14 aren’t exposed to the risk of an outbreak in prison and provide everybody with proper medical care and support.
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. The majority of kids forced through the criminal legal system at this young age are from backgrounds of disadvantage and have experienced neglect, trauma and abuse.
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.
Raising the age to 14 should be done in conjunction with efforts to identify and support at risk children and families. Our Governments should choose to invest in programs and services that help rather than harm, including education, mentoring, parenting programs and mental health services.
We need to shift away from prisons and police, including a reinvestment of funds to 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 stop putting children as young as 10 in prison.
Sign the petition to #RaiseTheAge: https://www.raisetheage.org.au
Media Contact: For interviews or media requests, please contact Thomas Feng, Media and Communications Manager, YACVic, 0431 285 275, firstname.lastname@example.org 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.