16 August 2022

Today a coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, legal, human rights and youth justice organizations will reiterate calls for the Victorian government to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14 with the backing of 65,799 Victorian residents who have signed the petition to raise the age.

Fiona Patten MP, who chaired the bipartisan Legal and Social Issues Committee that oversaw the recent Inquiry into Victoria’s Criminal Justice System, will meet with the Smart Justice for Young People coalition and accept the petition today. Earlier this year, that Inquiry recommended that the Victorian Government raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

Across the country, 211,670 people have signed the petition to raise the age. Members of Parliament and Attorneys-General in every state and territory are being handed a clear message from their constituents that children do not belong in prisons. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are disproportionately impacted by the current, very low age of criminal responsibility, which is out of step with international human rights standards. The evidence is clear that children belong in playgrounds and in schools, supported by their families in their communities, not locked up behind bars in police and prison cells.

Earlier this month, the federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC and Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney received the national petition. 

Nerita Waight, CEO for the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, said:

“It is clear that there is popular support for raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years old, and that’s exactly what a good government would do – immediately. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children are overrepresented in Victoria’s youth prisons. Victoria committed to reducing the over incarceration of our children in the new Closing the Gap targets, but it will struggle to meet this goal if it does not raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years old. Our children have a right to be connected to culture, community, and Country, but that right is taken away from too many of them.”

Tiffany Overall, spokesperson for Smart Justice for Young People, said:

“This petition confirms that many Victorians agree that raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years is urgently needed, and we encourage the Victorian Government to commit to this step. The younger you arrest or incarcerate children, the more damage that is being done, and the more likely they will be entrenched in the criminal justice system as adults. A terrible outcome for everyone. Instead it’s very important that we put the right supports in place for these children and their families.”

Nick Espie, Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre, said:

“No child belongs in prison. Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility from ten to at least 14 is a simple action that the Andrews government can take right now to give our children a brighter future. More than 200,000 Australians have backed the call, and it is time for the Andrews government to listen. The evidence is clear, children belong with their families and in community, not in prisons. The Andrews government must take action now to raise the age.”

Julie Edwards, CEO at Jesuit Social Services, said: 

“It is estimated that children who are arrested before they turn 14 are three times more likely to re-offend as adults than children arrested after they turn 14. By raising the age of criminal responsibility and keeping children out of prison, we can ensure more children have the opportunity to reach their potential and lead healthy and fulfilling lives.”

Andrew Bruun, CEO at Youth Support and Advocacy Service, said: 

“It’s our responsibility to ensure that every young person is safe and stable, so they have an equal chance to participate in society and meet their ambition and hopes for the future. If a young person is incarcerated at 10 years old, their life is significantly disrupted and it can be difficult to overcome this disadvantage.”