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Submission to the Council of Attorney-General’s Public Consultation into the Age of Criminal Responsibility

Currently there are close to 600 children under the age of 14 years who are in youth prisons across Australia each year.1 Children who are taken to a barbed wire facility, strip searched on entry, given limited access to peers, teachers and supports, and separated from family and community. And it is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are most impacted by this injustice. In 2019, 70% of the kids aged 10-13 years in youth prisons in Australia were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. The over-representation of Aboriginal young people in the criminal justice system remains year after year at disgraceful levels. Each and every day ALS solicitors take calls through our Custody Notification Service regarding children in custody and speak to distressed families. Each and every day the ALS helps children and young people with different stories but the same themes; a child strip searched for $2, a child arrested for stealing $3.20 worth of lollies, a child too small to be seen over the dock, a child self-harming in juvenile detention, a child tying a jumper around his neck in the court cells. The stories of injustice are far too common.

We should be supporting kids to thrive in community and culture, not separating them from their families by locking them up in harmful prisons. Rather than harming, stigmatising and marginalising these 600 children in the criminal justice system, we should change the law so that we give kids every possible opportunity to succeed.

There is also a clear policy imperative to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) and divert children and young people from custody. We know that detention has adverse effects on an individual and only serves to compound existing issues for vulnerable children and young people. The families and communities of children or young people in custody bear additional social and economic costs. And research tells us that children who encounter the criminal justice system at an early age tend to go on to have further and more severe interactions with police and courts than young people who have similar experiences at a later age.

Right now, Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world. Currently the MACR in all Australian jurisdiction is 10 years, compared to a global median MACR of 14.5. This is in spite of overwhelming evidence - from Aboriginal organisations and our communities, medical experts, legal experts and human rights bodies - that detention, as well as any other interaction with the criminal justice system, harms children.

This submission seeks to demonstrate the critical need to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) to at least 14 years of age in all Australian jurisdictions, without delay and without exception.
Please note that names and other person circumstances within this submission have been altered to protect privacy.

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