Rethink Needed on Youth Justice System
Tuesday, 17th September 2013 at 9:44 am
Not for Profit leaders in the youth justice system want legislative changes to increase the age of criminal responsibility and more child-specific bail principles – issues that will be flagged at a national symposium this week.
|Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.|
The move follows the release of a report, done earlier this year by Jesuit Social Services, called Thinking Outside: Alternative to Remand for Children – which called for the raising of criminal responsibility from 10 years old to 12.
Currently the median age of criminality across Europe is 14 years old, in New Zealand it’s 13, China and Japan 14, and Sweden 15 years. In the US, across states it ranges from six to 12 years old.
“We’d like to see an increase of the age of criminal responsibility from the age of 10 to 12. We don’t think there is a place for a primary school aged child in custody,” Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards said.
“That will bring us in line with other parts of the world. United Nations recommends that 12 is the minimum acceptable age of criminal responsibility.”
Edwards said the second key reform was in terms of bail and making more child-specific principles when granting bail or not.
“[Judges and Magistrates] can look at things things like understanding whether a child should stay connected with their family or their community, not pull them out of school with it is important for them to stay in school,” she said.
“They’re the sort of principles that would guide the magistrates and judges decisions so we’d like to see that.”
The options for legislative change will be considered at a two-day Jesuit Social Services’ National Justice Symposium – Pushing the Boundaries: Rethinking the Extent of Children’s Involvement in the Criminal Justice System and will include key decision-makers, including the National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell, Victorian Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People Bernie Geary, Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People Andrew Jackomos, and Policy for the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Jodeen Carney, who will talk on the big issues.
JSS revealed in its report that 27 Victorian children who were first remanded at 10 to 12 years of age, were all known to child protection and 52 per cent were known to child protection before their third birthday.
Edwards hopes the symposium will bring to light issues that surround these “cross-over” children.
“The ones that are caught in the child protection system and criminal justice system … I think that will be very interesting as it will throw up not only the issue of their vulnerability but what sort of intense and integrated interventions that we need to bring to bear,” she said.
“We’re talking about people who have already landed in the system, we’re, of course, very interested in justice reinvestment, intervening even earlier in families and making communities stronger.
“Looking at those areas where people are most likely not to do maternal and child health check-ups, really get strategies in place to promote that.
“We think there’s locally based governance and greater collaboration of various entities whether it be government of community services sector in local areas, which is the thrust of the Victorian Government, they are trying to move that way.
“We think that will help pick up vulnerable people and make sure they don’t slip through the net.
“We think we need to addressing the system at that level, I think they will be areas that will be of great interest.”
With 46 per cent of all Victorian children aged 10-14 under youth justice in 2011-12 Aboriginal and making up less than 5 per cent of the population in Australia, Aboriginal children in the crime will also make a hot topic at the symposium set to be discussed by speakers including VACCA CEO Muriel Bamblett, Jodeen Carney and Andrew Jackomos who are all “very passionate about the needs of Aboriginal children”.
Edwards said one issue that faced the youth justice system was how to “reframe” the discussion about youth justice within the community.
“If we could come out of here with a strategy about how we might influence hearts and minds … we’re increasingly interested in how we do that with the broader community,” Edwards said.
“We do it I think quite well with key influencers and decision makers in terms of whether it be the Attorney General or government ministers.
“I think more broadly, and it’s beyond this issue as well, you just have to look at the lead-up to the last Federal Election, how do we get an engaged community, an informed community and a community that takes up its democratic and civic responsibility to engage with the issues, honestly and in an informed way?
“… We can’t make it happen that day but if we have a strong cohort of people who are prepared to work on that, institutes, the judiciary, key politicians, children’s commissioners, we think we’ll have a very good base to take it further.”
Jesuit Social Services National Justice Symposium runs from September 18 to 19.