Stop Locking Up Children! Calls to Raise the Age of Criminal Responsibility
More than 70 organisations have endorsed a report which calls for the Western Australian Government to raise the age of criminal responsibility.
Across Australia, including in WA, children as young as ten years of age can be held criminally responsible, meaning that children this age can currently be prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to juvenile detention.
This is not the first time the law has been challenged. For several years, groups including the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Amnesty International, the Law Council of Australia, and the Australian Medical Association have been calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14.
Various Aboriginal legal, health and community services groups have also been pushing for the raise in age because Indigenous children are far more likely to be sentenced to detention than non-indigenous children.
National push stalled
Last year, the meeting of the Council of Attorneys General (CAG) resolved to consider the issue more closely at a national level on the back of figures presented by lobby group Raise the Age, which points out that in one recent year across the nation, “close to 600 children aged 10 to 13” were imprisoned.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children account for 65 percent of all younger children incarcerated.
Indigenous children more likely to be locked up
Specifically in Western Australia, almost three-quarters of average daily juvenile detainees last year were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, despite comprising just five per cent of the population, the report says.
Indigenous children are 21 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be under youth justice supervision, and frequently these children are detained for not particularly serious offences.
For decades there has been consensus amongst child psychologists, health professionals and legal experts that the age of 10 is far too young for a child to be in the criminal justice system. In addition, a growing body of evidence shows that locking children up only serves to entangle young people into a life of further offending.
What’s happening overseas?
Many other countries have already raised the age to 14, some to 16, recognising that children under the age of 14 have relatively immature brain development, characterised by poor decision-making, lack of organisational skills, minimal ability to consider future planning and low impulse control. They are therefore less likely to be completely responsible for their actions.
Diversion programmes which steer young children in trouble with the law away from detention provide them with more options, and often, the much-needed attention to health, social skills and education that they need to get their lives on track.
It costs around $1340 a day to detain one child at Banksia Hill compared to $93 per day for community supervision. In essence, not only is the current system ineffective at rehabilitating these young people, it’s expensive. And it becomes more expensive as time goes on, with children continually in and out of the system as they head into their teens and adult years.
The ACT has committed to raising the age to 14
Last year, the ACT committed to raising the age to 14. The legislative motion says: “keeping young people safe and diverting them from the justice system was a whole-of-government and whole-of-community responsibility.” It is expected to be enacted later this year.
However, the ACT legislation does offer a blueprint for other jurisdictions, which can make their own decisions on the issue while there is as yet, no national consensus.
PLEASE NOTE: The material in this blog post is for informational use only and should not be construed as legal advice. For answers to your questions regarding this or other topics, please contact a professional legal representative.