Jesuit Social Services welcomes changes to Bail introduced into the Victorian Parliament on Wednesday 25 November to address the alarming increase in vulnerable children being held in remand despite a 14 per cent drop in the number of young offenders.

Jesuit Social Services acting CEO Sally Parnell says that previous changes to the Bail Act in December 2013 were designed to improve community safety but unintentionally led to drastically higher numbers of children being held in detention and risked embedding a culture of criminal activity in those young people.

“All the evidence shows clearly that early contact with detention leads to higher likelihood of reoffending down the track,” says Ms Parnell.

The new amendments will not prevent a court or police officer from remanding children in custody when this is appropriate, but they will ensure that remand is only used for children when there is no other reasonable option.

“The increase in remand undermines an approach to children in the justice system that has consistently achieved positive outcomes for both the children involved and the broader community,” says Ms Parnell. “It is also in contravention of our international obligations to use detention of children only as a last resort, and of the principles and protections for children in our own Children, Youth and Families Act 2005.”

While the government is to be commended for the changes to bail for children Jesuit Social Services are also calling for the expanded use and availability of youth diversion and for the age of criminal responsibility to be lifted nationally from 10 to 12 years old.

“The minimum age of criminal responsibility across all Australian states and territories is 10, despite extensive scientific evidence the brains of children under 12 are not adequately developed for them to be criminally responsible,” says Ms Parnell.

“Too often problem behaviour, particularly by very young children, is a signal that children are at risk and experiencing significant trauma. This requires responses that protect and support children rather than punish and institutionalise them.”

Australian’s minimum age is lower than countries including Canada, Japan, Germany, France and China.

While Victoria leads the nation in terms of its response to youth justice, Ms Parnell says more could be done to divert young people from a life a crime and improve community safety.

“The Victorian Government has strengthened youth diversion options but there is significant variation in the availability of bail support and diversion options across the State, particularly in rural areas. Options for diversion need to be further strengthened with a legislative framework, and expansion of programs to all courts.”

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