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More than 15,000 people urge WA Government to raise the age in new petition

Giovanni Torre -

More than 15,200 West Australians have urged the WA government to raise the age of criminal responsibility in a petition presented to Attorney-General John Quigley on Wednesday.

Social Reinvestment WA and the more than 30 organisations in the group's justice coalition organised the petition, which called for the state's system to be in line with international human rights standards and best practice.

Under current WA law, children as young as 10 years old can be arrested, sent to court and locked away in prison, contrary to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.

The WA Government is expected to reveal its plan to Raise the Age at the Standing Council of Attorneys-General meeting in December.

For three years Social Reinvestment WA has led the campaign to Raise the Age of criminal responsibility to at least 14.

The group of organisations hope the historic moment will "ignite real change in WA's failing justice system".

The petition was signed by some 15,231 West Australians who support the calls of the growing chorus of experts to stop jailing children.

Given the tragic news of WA's first child death in youth detention since modern records began, calls for urgent reform "are only growing louder", the group noted in a statement on Wednesday afternoon after meeting with Mr Quigley.

The justice coalition said Raising the Age would be "a small but monumental step toward fixing WA's crisis in youth justice; Diverting primary school children before circumstances spiral further and reducing the population in Banksia Hill".

The justice coalition's statement included comments from experts and justice leaders from across the state, including:

Social Reinvestment WA co-chair Glenda Kickett, who said:

"Children are our future. They should be in community, on Country, and with their family – not locked up in prisons."

Fellow Social Reinvestment WA co-chair, Daniel Morrison-Bird – CEO, Wungening Aboriginal Corporation, said:

"Children under the age of 14 need help and support, with effective systems to identify and respond to their needs – sending them to detention is not what that looks like and only leads to poor outcomes. It is fair and reasonable to ask the Government to commit to Raising the Age and finding alternative treatment options for the handful of children under the age of 14 facing detention."

Aboriginal Legal Service of WA chief executive Wayne Nannup said:

"The current system is failing our children, and the age of criminal responsibility must be raised to 14. It's abhorrent that children as young as Grades 4 or 5 are locked up in prison cells in Australia. Jailing children is not the answer. If anything, it will only set them up for a future that leads straight into the adult prison system. From a First Nations perspective, our people are already disproportionately impacted. It's time for Australia to protect the rights of the child, reverse the over-representation of Indigenous children in custody and raise the age of criminal responsibility".

Social Reinvestment WA principal manager Sophie Stewart, said:

"In WA you can't vote until 18, you can't get a license until 16, you can't get a job until 13. So why on earth are we still criminalising children as young as ten? A plethora of evidence and expertise supports the case for raising the age, and the earlier we can rehabilitate and support struggling children, the better chance we have of creating long lasting positive outcomes for them and the wider community. It is high time the WA government listened to the chorus of voices and fixed their failed youth justice system."

Lisa Cunningham – CEO, Waalitj Foundation:

"Children need support and guidance as they develop, so for them to be incarcerated at such a young age is appalling. I believe that working with children and their families in a holistic manner is the way for them to reach their full potential."

Rodney Dillon – Indigenous Rights Advisor, Amnesty International Australia, said:

"The government and systems are not addressing issues as to why our kids are being locked up- especially issues regarding health and education. To the Australian government, we have had kids who have died under your system, and you've done nothing about it. They were already told that this would happen and so when a child dies, who are we to hold responsible? When there is a death in the workplace, someone is always held accountable for it. But who are we to hold responsible for death after death? There are kids committing suicide, who are we to hold accountable?"

Louise Giolitto - CEO, WA Council of Social Services:

"I have nieces and nephews that are 11 and 12. I find it unimaginable, and it breaks my heart that they could be sent to prison for mistakes they make as children. History tells us that tearing children away from their families is not the solution."

Maggie Munn - National Director, Change the Record, said:

"Children under the age of 14 are minors in every other aspect of law and society – we don't expect them to be responsible enough to drive a car or vote yet our legal system means children as young as 10-years-old can commit a crime and be placed in prison. Incarcerating children is counterproductive to our future society, and it does not work. It has been proven to entrench offending, or at best, achieve no reduction in the rate or severity of future offending. The age of criminal responsibility must be raised to a minimum of 14."

Jim Morrison – Founder of Yokai, said:

"The Western Australian government must take in to account the trauma that first nations people have been going through in the last month from a failed referendum and children dying in custody. The governments best service is humanity - not locking 10-year-olds in adult prisons."

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