Amnesty urges Queens­land to raise age of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity to 14

The Guardian Australia - - News - Ben Smee

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has called for the age of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity in Queens­land to be raised to 14, say­ing youth de­ten­tion is “quick­sand” for the 150 chil­dren un­der 14 im­pris­oned in the state each year.

Queens­land locks up more 10-to-13year-olds than any other state; more than 70% are Indige­nous. It means an Indige­nous child is 30 times more likely to be sent to prison than any other Queens­lan­der.

“A child’s chance at a bright fu­ture can be lost for­ever,” says Belinda Lowe, the Indige­nous rights cam­paigner for Amnesty In­ter­na­tional.

Amnesty has launched a cam­paign, backed by Indige­nous groups, lawyers and doc­tors, to raise the age of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity in line with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards and med­i­cal re­search.

In all Aus­tralian states and ter­ri­to­ries a child can­not be charged with a crim­i­nal of­fence un­der the age of 10. How­ever, a child aged 10-14 may be con­victed of a crime if the pros­e­cu­tion can demon­strate that the child was able to dis­tin­guish be­tween right and wrong at the time of the of­fence.

A Jan­uary 2017 re­port by the Queens­land Fam­ily and Child Com­mis­sion into the age of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity found that chil­dren locked up be­fore the age of 14 were three times more likely to be­come chronic adult of­fend­ers

than chil­dren locked up af­ter 14.

Im­pris­oned chil­dren are less likely to com­plete school, to com­plete fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing, or to gain em­ploy­ment.

“No child should be kept in a tiny cell, sep­a­rated from their fam­ily. But, across Queens­land, lit­tle kids as young as 10 are be­ing locked up, far younger than the rest of the world and at the high­est rates in Aus­tralia. Indige­nous chil­dren are the worst af­fected, it’s not fair and it’s not right,” Lowe said.

The Queens­land govern­ment is draft­ing a new youth jus­tice strat­egy, which is due for com­ple­tion in Novem-

ber.

Dr Li-Zsa Tan, a fel­low of the Royal Aus­tralasian Col­lege of Physi­cians, said pae­di­a­tri­cians recog­nise the cur­rent age of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity does not ad­dress the fac­tors that con­trib­ute to ju­ve­nile crime, or that chil­dren younger than 14 are more likely to take risks.

“Be­havioural and neu­ro­sci­en­tific stud­ies show the brain un­der­goes an in­tense pe­riod of de­vel­op­ment and synap­tic change dur­ing pre­pubescence and ado­les­cence. These changes di­rectly af­fect how chil­dren per­ceive and re­act to risk-tak­ing un­der peer in­flu­ence, and these is­sues are com­pounded in vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties,” Tan said.

Amnesty says ther­a­peu­tic pro­grams that have worked with young of­fend­ers have re­ported “pow­er­ful re­sults” but have not been funded by the Queens­land govern­ment.

One such pro­gram, Red Dust Heal­ing, was tri­alled at the Cleve­land youth de­ten­tion cen­tre near Bris­bane. Chil­dren were mon­i­tored for two years af­ter­wards and none re­turned to de­ten­tion.

The Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der Le­gal Ser­vice Queens­land chief ex­ec­u­tive, Shane Duffy, said Indige­nous chil­dren were more likely to be stopped by po­lice, and more likely to re­ceive a cus­to­dial sen­tence.

“That’s why this govern­ment needs to stop crim­i­nal­is­ing such young chil­dren, and in­stead sup­port the ex­cel­lent Indige­nous-led pro­grams around Queens­land that will give Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der chil­dren the best chance in life.”

Lowe said the Queens­land govern­ment needed to fund com­mu­nity-led pro­grams and im­me­di­ately raise the age of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity to 14.

“All Queens­land chil­dren de­serve a pos­i­tive start in life. But once they’re stuck in the quick­sand of the prison sys­tem, a child’s chance at a bright fu­ture can be lost for­ever. The Palaszczuk govern­ment must in­stead give young kids the ex­tra sup­port they need, so they can grow and thrive, strong in their com­mu­ni­ties.”

Across Queens­land, lit­tle kids as young as 10 are be­ing locked up, far younger than the rest of the world Belinda Lowe, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional

Pho­to­graph: ABC

A boy, 17, is re­strained in Cleve­land youth de­ten­tion cen­tre in Queens­land. The state govern­ment is be­ing urged to raise the age of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity to 14 in line with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards and med­i­cal re­search.

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