VCOSS has joined a coalition of justice, human rights, social service and Aboriginal organisations to call on the Victorian Government to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years.
Representatives of more than 60 organisations—including Amnesty International, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Aid, Berry Street, Save The Children and the Salvation Army—have signed an open letter to the Premier Daniel Andrews supporting this change.
“Victorian law currently allows for kids as young as 10 to be locked in prison cells, and that is simply unacceptable in modern Australia,” campaign spokeswoman Melanie Poole from Victoria’s Federation of Community Legal Centres said.
The push follows the recent release of a damning report by the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, which detailed graphic child abuse in the NT justice and out-of-home care systems, and called for the immediate closure of the Don Dale child prison.
The Royal Commission confirmed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were disproportionately the victims of the abuse, both in the NT and across Australia.
Wayne Muir, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, said we must build a system that is safe and supportive of our vulnerable children.
“The abuse occurring in the children’s prison system in the Northern Territory is not isolated. We are demanding the Victorian Government pays urgent attention to the Commission’s findings, which are of direct relevance to Victoria.”
“One simple, immediate step the Victorian Government can take is to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.”
“Look at your own family or walk past your local primary school and imagine those kids locked up in a cell no bigger than a parking space. It is unconscionable that children are ripped away from their families, communities and schools and thrown into the quicksand of the children’s prison system, a system that only causes harm.”
Serina McDuff, CEO of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, which also houses Smart Justice—a coalition of more than 40 major legal and social service providers—also backed the call.
“Australia is lagging shamefully behind other countries on this issue. In most of Europe and the United States, 14 years is the absolute, baseline minimum for the age of criminal responsibility.”
Victorian Council of Social Service CEO Emma King said imprisoning small children is abhorrent.
“These kids should be supported to thrive in their communities or with their families, not funnelled into a punitive system.”
According to the Sentencing Council of Victoria, children who are arrested before 14 years are three times more likely than children arrested after 14 years to become chronic adult offenders.
Children first sentenced at age 10-12 had a reoffending rate of 86%, whereas for those first sentenced aged 19-20 the reoffending rate was just 33%.
— VCOSS (@VCOSS) November 29, 2017