Life Without Barriers: “Our future legacy cannot be that we willingly place children in prisons”

12 October 2021

Life Without Barriers says this is an alarming and serious problem, particularly for children in out-of-home care. The agency has joined the campaign to #raisetheage of criminal responsibility to a minimum of 14 years.

Last year, Australia imprisoned almost 500 children aged 10-13 and as a major provider of child, youth and family services, Life Without Barriers supports growing calls to take action to reform the laws that allow children as young as 10 to be incarcerated.

Chief Executive Claire Robbs says Life Without Barriers provides support to thousands of children in child protection and knows that children in out-of-home care are more likely to have interactions with the criminal justice system despite already being one of the most vulnerable groups in society.

“Children under the age of 14 are minors, in every other aspect of law and society. We don’t consider them able to make decisions and accept the responsibility of driving a car or voting. In most states and territories, children can’t even consent to healthcare about themselves until 14, yet our legal system currently says they can commit a crime and be placed in prison.

“Incarcerating children is counterproductive to our future society, and it does not work. It has been proven to entrench offending, or at best, achieve no reduction in the rate or severity of future offending,” Robbs said.

“Instead of imprisoning young children and punishing them through traditional measures, we need to have services that are compassionate, adequately resourced and trauma-informed. We can do much better than prison for little children.”

Statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that children who receive child protection services, are nine times more likely to come into contact with the youth justice system, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 17 times more likely to be involved in both child protection and youth justice.

“This has particularly devastating impacts on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, where children are far more likely to be removed from their families into care. These children are also more likely to be criminalised and experience a punitive environment.

“Research shows this leads to ongoing engagement with the criminal justice system into adulthood, which can lead to lower educational attainment, low rates of unemployment and ongoing intergenerational disadvantage,” Robbs said.

Australia’s minimum age of criminal responsibility lags behind the rest of the world, with the global median age being 14. In 2019, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on all countries, including Australia, to raise the age to 14.

In joining #raisetheage, Life Without Barriers joins a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, expert United Nations bodies, human rights organisations, medical and legal bodies, and academics, in urging all state and territory governments to end their practice of incarcerating children who are as young as 10.

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