The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)’s annual Youth Justice in Australia report, published today, reveals that the number of young people both under community-based supervision and in detention has declined over the past five years. These positive trends must be supported by a commitment by all states and territories to raise the age of criminal responsibility and ensure more children and young people have the chance to flourish, says Jesuit Social Services.

“We welcome the news that the number of young people in detention on an average day has fallen by 15 per cent over the past five years, with the number of young people in community-based supervision also falling by 18 per cent over the same timeframe,” says Jesuit Social Services Acting CEO Sally Parnell.

“This shows that across the country, we are doing many things right in terms of intervening early to prevent anti-social behaviour from occuring in the first place, keeping children connected with education and family, and ensuring that when children do get into trouble they can be supported in an age-appropriate and therapeutic manner.”

Ms Parnell says that children in detention are often among the most marginalised in the community.

“In Victoria, more than half of all children in detention have been subject to a current or previous child protection order and more than 70 per cent have been victims of abuse, neglect or trauma. A truly effective justice system is one where detention is only ever used as a last resort, and where children are supported in the community to reach their potential,” she says.

While the AIHW’s report shows some positive trends in the number of young people having contact with detention, Ms Parnell says it is a significant concern that three quarters of young people in detention are on remand, yet to be convicted of a crime.

“We know that contact with detention causes enormous harm to children, and that it increases the likelihood of them having further contact with the justice system as they get older. We need to emphasise keeping children in the community wherever possible, and giving them the support they need to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.”

Ms Parnell says raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years across the country would be a significant reform that would ultimately create stronger, more cohesive communities.

“Australia has long been out of step with human rights standards and medical science by continuing to incarcerate children as young as 10. There have been some positive moves towards more humane, evidence-based approaches, with the Northern Territory introducing legislation to raise the age to 12 as well as Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT taking steps towards raising the age.

“We are unequivocal in our position that every Australian jurisdiction should raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14, with no exceptions, supported by an increased emphasis on restorative justice approaches for children who engage in anti-social behaviour to take responsibility for their actions and be steered towards positive pathways in the community. A different approach would be both more just and more effective, and give more children the chance to lead positive lives.”

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