‘Missed opportunity’ to keep children out of prison

18 Nov 2021

Australia’s law-makers missed an opportunity to prevent harms to children as they consider raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years.

While state and territory Attorneys-General supported the development of a proposal to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 in a communique, the AMA says this is still too young and the minimum age should be raised to 14 instead.

Acknowledging the complexity of the work being done by the Meeting of Attorney Generals (MAG) in this area of the criminal justice system, the AMA said their proposal was a missed opportunity to make real progress in stopping harms to children, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are disproportionately affected.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people aged between 10 and 17 are 38 times as likely to be in detention as non-Indigenous young people in some Australian states. In the Northern Territory, at least 94 per cent juvenile detainees are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.

“We have a particular responsibility to this group of children, who may be suffering intergenerational trauma, to keep them out of prison and to explore culturally appropriate alternative programs,” an AMA statement said.

“Raising the age to 12 falls well short of what is needed, will result in more children being locked up and ignores expert medical, legal and social advice on the real harm of current laws,” Dr Khorshid’s statement said.

Young people in contact with the criminal justice system are less likely to complete their education, find employment and are more likely to re-offend and die an early death.

The AMA recommended exploring existing and proposed alternative programs to incarceration in Australian jurisdictions, Japan and European countries where children under age 14 are not incarcerated.