The Victorian Government’s announcement that it will raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years now and to 14 within four years is at odds with the evidence about children’s brain development and the best way to create strong and cohesive communities, says Jesuit Social Services.

“Australia has long been out of touch with human rights recommendations by continuing to incarcerate primary school children as young as 10. An analysis of 90 jurisdictions found that Australia’s age of criminal responsibility of 10 years lags behind the most common international median of 14,” says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

“Victoria is overdue in joining other states and territories including the Northern Territory and the ACT in recognising that criminalising and incarcerating children as young as 10 does not benefit them, their families or the broader community. In fact, research has shown that children who have contact with detention at a young age are more likely to have further contact with the justice system throughout their lives and into adulthood,” says Ms Edwards.

“However, failing to raise the age to 14 now means Victoria will still be locking up children aged 12 and 13 for years to come. This half step is nothing short of a missed opportunity for Victoria to lead the country in evidence-based approaches to supporting children in trouble.”

The Victorian Government’s announcement states that support services will help 10- and 11-year old children and their families address the causes of problematic behaviours and prevent future contact with the criminal justice system.

“This is welcome, but organisations like Jesuit Social Services and our sector colleagues stand willing and ready to work with the Victorian Government to implement a new system and a new way of responding to children under 14 who get into trouble right now. This includes a strong emphasis on restorative justice approaches that support children to take accountability for their behaviour in the community, and to connect or reconnect with education and family,” says Ms Edwards.

Data published by the Youth Parole Board shows that children in Victoria’s youth detention system are among the state’s most marginalised children.

“More than 70 per cent of children in detention are themselves victims of abuse, trauma or neglect, more than 50 per cent have been subject to a current or previous child protection order and half have experienced family violence. These are children who need to be given every opportunity to lead healthy and fulfilling lives in the community,” says Ms Edwards.

“Additionally, extensive research that shows children and young people under 14 do not have the ability to make comprehensive judgements, and are more likely to engage in impulsive behaviour than adults, it is clear that we must be doing everything we can to ensure fewer children have contact with a system that causes significant harm.”

“Instead of waiting another four years to heed the advice of so many experts who work with vulnerable children every day, the Victorian Government must raise the age to 14 years, with no exceptions, immediately. This will ultimately give children the best chance to flourish.”

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