“The scientific evidence is overwhelming that, at the age of 10, a child’s brain is still developing, particularly in terms of reasoning skills, impulsivity and consequential thinking,” the letter says.
The letter says the younger children are when they first encounter the criminal justice system, the more likely they are to re-offend.
“The evidence also shows that many children who become involved in the criminal justice system come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have complex needs that are better addressed outside the criminal justice system through a developmentally appropriate, trauma-informed and culturally safe early intervention model that supports children in their families and communities.”
The United Nations considers 14 to be the absolute minimum age of criminal responsibility.
But the Australian government resisted a recommendation earlier this year from the UN Human Rights Council to increase it.
“Responsibility for criminal justice is shared between the federal, state and territory governments who are engaged in a process to consider this question, with some having announced an intention to raise the age within their respective jurisdictions,” Australia’s permanent representative to the UN Sally Mansfield said at the time.
“Ultimately it will be a decision for each jurisdiction whether to raise the age of criminal responsibility.”
Source: SBS News/Sarah Maunder
The ACT parliament last year voted to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14, making it the first Australian jurisdiction to agree to bring its laws into line with the UN standard.
Earlier this month, the Labor Party in Western Australia passed a motion at its state conference in support of raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14.
Tasmanian patron of the Justice Reform Initiative and chair of the Prisoners Legal Service Tasmania, Greg Barns, said treating 10-year-olds as criminally responsible is “not only contrary to common sense but it leads to permanent harm to that child”.
“We must stop ruining the future of our children by inflicting injustice on them,” he said.
Almost 800 children aged 10 to 17 were in detention across the country in the June 2020 quarter, according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Source: SBS News/Sarah Maunder
Forty-eight per cent were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children, despite them making up just six per cent of the wider population in that age bracket.
Amnesty Australia Indigenous rights advisor, Rodney Dillon, said there needs to be a more effective response to the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the youth justice system.
“We have the solutions – all the evidence shows that culturally appropriate, community-led justice reinvestment is a much more productive way to manage kids when they get into trouble,” he said.
“Raising the age of criminal responsibility would reduce the contact young people – and in particular Indigenous young people – have with the criminal justice system.”
The Tasmanian government last month announced the closure of the Ashley Youth Detention Centre, citing the need for “major systemic change”.