15 November 2022

Locking Up Kids: Australia's failure to protect children in detention.

Close-up of two boys looking towards the ground. Raise the age logo and hashtag in the bottom right-hand corner.

The heart-breaking footage from Banksia Hill shared by the ABC demonstrates how poor Australia's corrections policies are and, more importantly, how we support vulnerable children and young people.

In Australia, children as young as 10 can be charged with a criminal offence. Australia is one of the last developed nations in the world to raise the age of incarceration to 14.

Australia's prison and detention settings are not designed or funded to nurture, heal or restore. The evidence has been tested and reported innumerable times – prisons do not deter crime. Prisons teach violence, deepen trauma, and isolate and damage a child’s physical and psychological resilience and development. Reoffending is nearly guaranteed.

Most trauma-informed experts agree that children who interact with the criminal justice system are generally more vulnerable to begin with. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are vastly over-criminalised in Australia and face dispossession, intergenerational trauma, racism, discrimination, lack of opportunity and segregation.

As Australia saw in the Four Corners episode (linked below), children are met with excessive force in prison. When they enter the juvenile system, they are no longer seen as the children they are; they are seen as offenders. A label that is hard to shake.

Corrections staff report violent behaviour, constant pressure, and working in an adrenalin-charged environment as some of the reasons why these 'events', violence, happen.

Over 4,000 children are held in detention each year. Organisations like Life Without Barriers, and many others, have provided submissions to the Council of Attorneys-General with information from our experience of working with children in the child protection system and youth justice services and the harm we have seen caused to children who are incarcerated.

Like many other organisations, we have provided insights about alternatives that don’t require children to be imprisoned. The Raise the Age campaign is the first crucial step, but we also need a national approach to advancing justice reinvestment for young people.

What can you do to help?

  1. Join the Raise the Age campaign and advocate for the age of criminal responsibility of children to be a minimum of 14 years old. Sign the petition.

  2. Write to your Premier/Chief Minister and local MP.

  3. Become an informed voter and advocate for greater public discussion on criminal justice law and policies that affect children.

  4. Advocate for redirection of funds towards justice reinvestment – the Labour Government committed $80m in the Federal Budget towards justice reinvestment – we need to lobby all our governments to expand resourcing towards system reform.

  5. The Council of Attorneys-General Age of Criminal Responsibility Working Group has a report that confirms the immediate and long-term danger to children and our communities from the incarceration of children. We need that report to be made public! 

Life Without Barriers has been a long-time supporter of #RaiseTheAge. Read our Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility social policy position.

You can watch the Four Corners episode of Locking Up Kids: Australia's failure to protect children in detention here.

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