The age of criminal responsibility has been much debated recently. Victoria has committed to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 this year, and to 14 in 2027. The Northern Territory has raised it to 12, and the ACT is in the process of doing so. Other states are planning, considering, or rejecting it.

Police are voicing their concerns and the media is awash with stories of youth crime. Many people are unclear about what will happen, whether they should be worried, or how it will affect their communities.

At Jesuit Social Services, we have argued for many years that children do not belong in jail.

For years, we have been calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to at least 14. We believe that children are worth a second chance. Our response to community and police concerns is grounded in experience and evidence.

We know that contact with the criminal justice system, especially incarceration, increases recidivism. Studies show that early contact with the justice system is the greatest predictor of repeated offending.

What should we do instead?
We need to raise the age of criminal responsibility throughout Australia.

The United Nations has declared 14 the absolute minimum age for criminal responsibility and countries like Germany, Italy, Japan and Vietnam have done this. In Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Greece, it’s 15; in Argentina, 16; in Spain, 18. Australia is lagging behind.

We need a system resourced to address the root causes of offending.

We know that education, housing, health care, mental health care, and financial security make involvement with the justice system less likely.

We know, too, that children who have involvement with the justice system frequently have experienced trauma, neglect or abuse, family violence, mental health challenges, cognitive challenges or alcohol and other drug misuse.

We need to intervene early.

Evidence shows that the earlier we address signs of antisocial behaviour, the lower the chance of offending behaviour. Engaging early and intensively with families of children showing early signs of anti-social behaviour has been shown to provide the best basis for prevention.

We need therapeutic responses for children caught offending that will support them to thrive and stop offending.

The evidence demonstrates that children tend to grow out of offending behaviour with one in 10 children or less going on to become a chronic offender. Addressing their behaviour therapeutically, with a focus on engaging the family and school, produces better results than punishment.

If you believe that children belong at home and not in jail, now is the time to speak out.

Through our Worth A Second Chance campaign, supporters can take action including sending a letter to Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan urging the Victorian Government to raise the age to 14, with no exceptions, immediately.

For more information visit

Let children know that they are worth a second chance.