Calls for end to imprisonment of children


Dozens of organisations have called upon the McGowan government to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years old in a report by Aboriginal justice campaign group Social Reinvestment WA.

The report, released on Monday, details the psychological impact of incarceration of minors and suggests alternative options that the government should take to help youth involved in criminal activity.

Currently all states in Australia have a minimum age of criminal responsibility of 10-years-old, which is below the international average of 13.5-years-old, according to the report.

The Australian Capital Territory recently announced that by the end of 2020 it would raise the age limit for incarceration to 14, however no other state government has proposed age reform.

More than 72 per cent of children in juvenile detention centers are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

Aboriginal Legal Service of WA CEO Robyn Ninyette says it’s shocking that in 2021 that First Nation people are still over-represented in Australian prisons.

“We must recognise that children’s brains are still developing, especially the parts that regulate judgement, decision-making and impulse control,” Ms Ninyette says.

“Kids cannot foresee the consequences of many of their actions and cannot fully understand the nature of their behaviour.”

Murdoch University director of Clinical Legal Programs Anna Copeland says that the current WA system is appalling and is in breach of human rights and international standards set by the UN.

“Australia’s juvenile justice system needs a whole lot of reform, most specifically in the way it applies to Indigenous Australians,” Ms Copeland says.

“Their over-representation in the whole system, particularly in detention, is a national disgrace.”

Murdoch University lawyer Professsor Jurgen Brohmer says that the government must look at alternative options for dealing with youth instead of incarceration.

“What is your alternative below the age of criminal responsibility?” he said.

“If you don’t have any then you have a problem.”

Dr Brohmer says it’s a complicated issue because children who are engaged in crime might not be criminally responsible, but need some form of intervention that goes beyond sending them away.

A spokesperson for WA Attorney-General John Quigley says the state is considering a reform to the juvenile criminal system and are observing the developments occurring both nationally and internationally in regards to raising the minimum age.