Keeping children out of prison

Kelly Sikkema/ Unsplash

Right now, in every Australian state and territory, children as young as ten can be arrested, charged and sent to jail. This is despite decades of medical, social and legal research highlighting the harm this causes.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are disproportionately represented, accounting for 65 per cent of children aged 10 to 13 in detention.

PIAC is working to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in NSW to at least 14 years.

Why should it be raised?

There are several compelling reasons to raise the age, including:

  • Improved understanding of brain development. Medical groups like the Royal Australasian College of Physicians support raising the age because lower levels of neurocognitive development in children aged 10-13 mean they should not be criminally punished for their behaviour.
  • Removing a pathway to prison. Research shows that early engagement with police and juvenile detention increases the risk of ‘entrenchment’ in the criminal justice system, including higher rates of adult imprisonment.
  • Disproportionate impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 10-13 are massively over-represented in the criminal justice system compared to non-Indigenous children.
  • Disproportionate impact on other vulnerable children. Other groups that are over-represented include children with intellectual disability and mental illness, as well as children who have had contact with child protection.
  • Below international standards. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child considers 14 to be the absolute minimum age of criminal responsibility.

We know that 10-13 year-olds are most likely to thrive if they are going to school and spending time with family and friends, instead of being in detention. And there are more effective ways to deal with problematic behaviour, including working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, and programs like the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project.

What is PIAC’s role?

PIAC is helping to co-ordinate the campaign to raise the age in NSW, working together with medical bodies and other legal groups, including Aboriginal legal organisations. We made a submission to the CAG review and are advocating directly to decision-makers.

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