Over 230 candidates running in the 2022 Victorian State Election have stated they support raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 in survey results published today by Smart Justice for Young People. This is in addition to the 65,799 Victorian residents who have signed the petition calling on the Victorian government to raise the age.

The Victorian government has the evidence that children belong in schools and playgrounds, never in prison and police cells, but continues to ignore it. Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Inquiry into Victoria’s Criminal Justice System overseen by the bipartisan Legal and Social Issues Committee recommended that the Victorian Government raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

Four Corners revealed earlier this week that the majority of Justice departments across Australia recommended raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 without exceptions in a report which the government has kept secret.

In Victoria, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and children from migrant and refugee communities are disproportionately impacted by the current, very low age of criminal responsibility, which is out of step with international human rights standards.

Contact with police and the criminal legal system is more likely to reinforce factors that lead to reoffending. Alternatives to prison that help children learn, and take responsibility for their actions, already exist – but Victoria is spending millions of dollars on a new youth prison instead of funding the solutions that actually work.

Nerita Waight, CEO, VALS said:

“The next Victorian Parliament must lead the way by raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years old. Raising the age would give so many Aboriginal children a better chance to build a good life. We hope the next Victorian Parliament is filled with politicians who are committed to getting this done.”

Tiffany Overall, Advocacy and Human Rights Officer Youthlaw and Co-convenor of SJ4YP said:

“It’s time Victoria. These survey results highlight the overwhelming evidence and support for reform to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14. It is unacceptable that our laws still allow primary-school aged children as young as ten to be investigated, prosecuted and detained in youth jails.”

Monique Hurley, Managing Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said:

“No child belongs in prison. The upcoming state election comes at a critical juncture, against the backdrop of a criminal legal system in dire need of overhaul. Whichever party wins this November, they must stop propping up a system of cruelty and raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14 years old. This is a simple action that the Victorian government can take to give children a brighter future. The evidence is clear – children belong with their families and in community, not in prison and police cells.

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

“For young people to develop well and live healthy and fulfilling lives it’s critical that their connection to family, community, and trusted people around them remains strong. A prison sentence not only cuts important connections in a young person’s life, but has a serious developmental impact on them and the opportunity and resources available to ensure safety and stability. Thank you to the candidates and political parties who support this essential reform which will only benefit young Victorians and their families.”

Dr Mark Zirnsak, Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania:

“The wellbeing, dignity and safety of children trapped in the criminal justice system deserves to be a priority. Australia’s lack of a coordinated response to Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility to 14 Years of Age across all jurisdictions has become an unconscionable embarrassment. The Uniting Church in Victoria calls on all the Victorian political parties to take seriously the advice of the majority of justice departments in Australia and support a compassionate response to the needs of the most at risk children.”

Smart Justice for Young People is a coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, legal, health, human rights and youth justice organizations.

Media contacts:

Pat Cook, Acting Head of Policy, Communications, and Strategy, 0417 003 910, pcook@vals.org.au

Thomas Feng, Media and Communications Manager, Human Rights Law Centre, 0431 285 275, thomas.feng@hrlc.org.au