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Pressure mounts on fight to raise age of criminal responsibility

27 July 2020 at 7:39 pm
Maggie Coggan
More than three in four Australians believe the age of criminal responsibility is over the age of 14

Maggie Coggan | 27 July 2020 at 7:39 pm


Pressure mounts on fight to raise age of criminal responsibility
27 July 2020 at 7:39 pm

More than three in four Australians believe the age of criminal responsibility is over the age of 14

Most Australians believe children as young as 10 years old do not belong in prison, and support the criminal age of responsibility being increased to the global median age of 14 years or higher, a new report finds. 

Research, released by Change the Record and the Australia Institute on Monday, found that 51 per cent of Australians supported raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years, twice as many as those who opposed it (26 per cent).  

The report also said that 73 per cent of Australians believed the age of criminal responsibility was greater than 10 years, and more 51 per cent thought the age was 14 years or over. Just a small minority (7 per cent) were able to correctly identify the age of criminal responsibility in Australia. 

Sophie Trevitt, the executive officer of Change the Record, said the findings needed to spark immediate action. 

“Not only do most Australians have no idea that such young children can be locked up in youth prisons, but the majority of Australians agree with the medical science [that] we need to change the laws to keep these kids out of prisons,” Trevitt said.

The research was released ahead of a meeting by the Council of Attorneys-General (CAG) to decide the outcome of a national review to raise Australia’s age of criminal responsibility from 10 years to 14 years of age, or higher. 

The CAG announced late on Monday that it would make its final decision in 2021. 

Peak youth advocacy, legal and medical groups have run a number of campaigns to raise the minimum age, with little success to date.  

In 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended 14 years as the minimum age of criminal responsibility. In countries such as Austria, Germany, Spain and Italy, children under 14 years old cannot be arrested, charged with a crime or sent to youth detention centres.

This latest report said that the brains of 10 year old children were not “sufficiently developed for them to be held criminally responsible”, and that being imprisoned at that age actually increased their odds of reoffending and caused serious harm.  

“It can have serious negative consequences for a child’s health, education and employment outcomes, including leading to an early death,” the report said. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children most at risk 

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2018-19 there were 600 children aged between 10 and 13 in prison. More than 60 per cent of that number were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. 

Trevitt said that with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children 17 times more likely to be detained as their non-Indigenous peers, policy makers needed to rethink how to tackle youth offending. 

“Locking up children as young as 10 years old can cause serious harm to a child’s health and development and makes it more likely that they will get stuck in the quicksand of the criminal justice system,” she said. 

According to the report, most Australians agree with this sentiment, saying that money would be better spent on social services such as “justice reinvestment” programs.  

A full copy of the report can be found here. 

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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