The ACT Government’s decision to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years, with a subsequent rise to 14 years from 1 July 2025, has been welcomed by the St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia.
Explaining that this decision was in broad conformity with the Society’s “Fairer Australia” policy, National President Mark Gaetani said, ‘We firmly believe that all Australian children should be supported to make good life choices. The entry of children into the youth justice system has an especially disproportionate impact on First Nations children, with far too many locked away in juvenile detention facilities, and even adult prisons.’
He added, ‘The Society supports the Justice Reform Initiative, whose many backers include Sir William Deane and The Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce, and believes that increasing penalties and building more detention facilities are not the solution.
‘Evidence shows children remain in cycles of disadvantage and imprisonment due to a lack of early critical support services including health, disability, rehabilitation and family supports. Holding children in prison begins a cycle of criminalisation - the earlier a child’s first contact with the justice system, the more likely they are to go on to reoffend.
‘Our position accords with that of the Law Council of Australia and the concerns expressed by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, which is seriously concerned about Australia’s extremely low age of criminal responsibility.
‘However, we regret that the ACT legislation carries exceptions for young people charged with certain categories of offences, as the same reservations about jailing young people apply in all cases. While raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years will not occur until 2025, we recognise the importance of ensuring appropriate support systems and services are in place.’
Mr Gaetani said that for some years the Society had been urging the raising of the age of criminal responsibility in all Australian jurisdictions and a standardising of laws relating to how young people can be treated.
‘The Society calls for continued funding of culturally led early-intervention and support services, including the Justice Policy Partnership’s development of community-based pathways away from the criminal justice system for children under 14 years,’ he added.
‘The ACT’s decision should be seen as both compassionate and courageous. Furthermore, it is pragmatic, as jailing children is damaging to the individuals as well as harmful and costly to the broader society.
‘It would be quite wrong to seek to portray this as a “soft on crime” decision. It has been well considered and the St Vincent de Paul Society believes it will help contribute to a fairer Australia.’
The St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia consists of 45,000 members and volunteers who operate on the ground through over 1,000 groups located in local communities across the country.
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