Prisons do not rehabilitate our children. Police contact is traumatising and harmful for our children. VALS has worked hard for 50 years to stop the overpolicing and overincarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children – and we will continue that struggle.
Today the Victorian Government has announced that it will immediately raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years old and has committed to raising the age to 14 years old by 2027. We are disappointed that the Government has ignored the voice of Aboriginal communities and experts by not immediately raising the age to 14 years old without exceptions.
We are happy that the Victorian Government has recognised the need to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years old and that they have committed to a timeline to do that. We are also pleased that they have committed to funding alternative supports for children who are engaging in negative behaviours and strengthening Doli Incapax in legislation.
However, we are disappointed that the Victorian Government has chosen a staggered approach and that they are still considering exceptions for certain types of behaviour. This sort of decision indicates that the Victorian Government has put too much stock in the scare campaign of the Police Association, rather than listening to experts.
We are also concerned that the proposed timeline goes out to the next Parliament. There’s no reason why this reform cannot be done well before the next election, and we hope the Government and Parliament can work together to implement this reform as soon as possible.
The Victorian Government needs to ensure that the raise the age reform is implemented properly and a crucial measure of this success will be whether there is a meaningful decrease in the number of police contacts with children.
The Victorian Government will also need to provide greater funding for support services during the transition to prevent an increase in overpolicing of Aboriginal children. Since the Governmnent passed laws decriminalising public intoxication, we have seen an increase in the number of Aboriginal people being charged with public intoxication in many regions across Victoria, while we wait for decriminalisation to come into effect in November this year. We are concerned there will be a similar effect in relation to this staggered approach to raising the age of criminal responsibility.
VALS’ Balit Ngulu has been incredibly successful in reducing contact with police and the criminal legal system. Balit Ngulu is dedicated to providing legal and youth support services for Aboriginal children. It is currently funded to operate in Melbourne and Preston, but the Victorian Government should provide funding to make it a statewide service as part of the raise the age reforms.
VALS has recommended for a long time that Doli Incapax be strengthened. It needs to be enshrined in law, it needs to be extend so that it applies to all children, and there needs to be extensive training for prosecutors and the courts so that it is applied properly.
Children who have contact with the legal system have been failed over and over again by society. We should be investing in the support services that children and their families need, to give them a good chance in life. When we fail children, we have the responsibility to do the hard work to give them a second chance. Prison takes away a child’s chances. VALS will continue to work hard until every child is free to go to school, have a safe home to live in and be supported to learn from their mistakes.
Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of VALS
“Aboriginal communities have been fighting for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to at least 14 years old for so many years. We are disappointed the Victorian Government has not listened to our voices, but we will continue to put every effort we can into creating a future where no child is imprisoned.”
“There is no reason that the Government cannot fully implement this reform before the next election. The Government has been working on this reform for almost a decade through the Federal process, and many inquiries and reports have provide a clear plan for implementation.”
“We are eager to work with the Government to improve Doli Incapax and hope they are open to ensuring every child is given the presumptions that come with Doli Incapax.”
“If the Victorian Government were to provide more funding for youth services like Balit Ngulu, that would be a good sign of their commitment to raising the age of criminal responsibility.”