Decision to raise detention age in Tasmania only a ‘first step’ in youth justice reform
10 June 2022 at 8:11 pm
Advocates say more action is needed for the welfare of children.
Tasmania has become the first state in the country to raise the age of criminal detention, from 10 to 14 years old.
The announcement was made on Wednesday by the Tasmanian minister for education, children and youth, Roger Jaensch, with the change set to occur at the end of 2024.
Importantly, the age of criminal responsibility will remain at 10 years old in Tasmania, with the state government saying its preference is for a national decision on this issue.
Speaking on the government’s decision on the age of detention, Jaensch said: “We know that detention does not support rehabilitation or reduce the likelihood of re-offending for younger children.
“Early exposure to a detention environment can also further traumatise young people, expose them to problem behaviours of older detainees and increase criminal networks.”
According to the Tasmanian state government, detention for young people will still be retained as “a last resort for a very small minority of young people who commit the most serious offences”.
Going forward, Tasmania’s youth justice system will focus on prevention and early intervention, diverting youth from the court system, and restorative alternatives for high-risk young offenders.
Police will still have the power to arrest, search and hold people aged 10 years and older “for the purposes of investigating crime”.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 118 young people aged 10 and over were under youth justice supervision each day in Tasmania in 2020-21.
Of those, eight per cent were in detention and 34 per cent of those young people aged 10 to 17 were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin.
Further action needed: advocates
First Nations justice coalition Change the Record said the Tasmanian government should go further, and raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years in line with the opinions of legal and medical experts.
The coalition said in a statement that raising the age of detention didn’t go far enough in protecting children from the trauma of engaging with police and the court system.
“It is a relief to hear the Tasmanian government commit to keeping tiny children out of prisons, but they must do more to protect and support our children in community and give them the opportunities they deserve to thrive,” said Cheryl Axleby, co-chair of Change the Record.
“This announcement stops short of the reforms we need – not just to keep children out of prison cells, but to ensure children under 14 are never arrested, handcuffed or put in police lockup but are instead supported with therapeutic and age-appropriate services when they need our help.”
Hannah Phillips, acting state manager of Tasmanian Aboriginal Legal Service (TALS), said the state government’s decision was a “first step” in the needed reforms.
“TALS urges the Tasmanian government to consider raising the age of detention to 16. The Tasmanian government must also commit to raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 as an introductory part of the new youth justice reforms,” she said.
“If this does not occur, it will lead to irreversible lifelong damage as children get stuck in the quicksand of the legal system. The focus must be on addressing the risk and underlying issues as to why a young person is getting in trouble.”
She said any plan for youth justice should be made in consultation with Tasmanian Aboriginal communities.
Meanwhile Nick Espie, legal director of the Human Rights Law Centre, said the organisation would keep advocating for every state and territory in Australia to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years old.
Calls for NSW and ACT to be next
The Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) welcomed the Tasmanian government’s decision, and called on the NSW government to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14.
“Children belong in schools and playgrounds, not behind bars. They deserve the opportunity to learn, and yet kids as young as 10 are being subjected to the trauma of arrest and imprisonment,” said Karly Warner, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) in a statement.
According to NSW budget estimates figures, more than half of the 293 children aged between 11 and 13 who have spent time in detention in the state were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
“The NSW government has made a commitment through Closing the Gap to reduce the rate of Aboriginal children and young people in detention. Raising the age of legal responsibility is an evidence-based path to honouring this commitment,” Warner said.
She also called on the ACT government to move forward on its commitment to raise the age of legal responsibility, saying the government had shown “great leadership” in being the first state to make that commitment but that progress had now “stalled”.
Warner also said the Tasmanian government should raise the age of legal responsibility for children, along with raising the age of detention.
“More has to be done to protect children. Keeping kids out of detention is one important step, but it doesn’t protect them from the broader harm caused by the criminal legal system,” she said.