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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Local groups push to raise criminal age

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are imprisoned in the ACT at eight times the rate of their non-indigenous peers. That is why 18 ACT organisations have rallied for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised while addressing the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the prison system.

In an open letter to the Territory’s political figures released today (Thursday 23 July), the service delivery, human rights, legal and representative organisations detail their support to raise the age from 10 to 14.

“Doctors agree that children do not have the cognitive capacity to be held criminally responsible at 10 years old,” the statement reads.  

“Moreover, they have found that sending children to prison can cause them lifelong harm, increase rates of mental illness, trauma, and even lead to early death.”

The letter was published prior to an Age of Criminal Responsibility Working Group Review being presented to a meeting of the Council of Attorneys-General on 27 July.

Director of Children, Youth and Family at Woden Community Service, Kate West, put her full support behind the cause. 

“The age of criminal responsibility of children needs to reflect what we know will result in better outcomes for the child and the community as a whole,” she said.

“A 10-year-old should not be faced with incarceration, but met with our compassion, understanding and active support.”

The ACT has had a 26.7% decrease in detention rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people from 205.54 in 2017–18 to 150.51 in 2018–19.

However, ACT Law Society President, Chris Donohue, said the imprisonment rate of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders was shocking.

“The Law Society believes that it is simply unacceptable to put children in prison. Australians should be ashamed of the number of children held in prisons around the country, and especially of the extraordinary over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in detention,” he said.

“We don’t have to wait for the other states and territories to do the right thing. The ACT Government could take action now, raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14, and keep our children out of prison.”

To read the full open letter, visit changetherecord.org.au/news.

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