Queensland Greens have proposed a private members bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility.
The bill, introduced on Wednesday by Greens MP Michael Berkman, would lift the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14-years in Queensland.
Bringing the bill forward, Berkman said the current laws are ineffective, out of line with international jurisdictions and in breach of human rights obligations.
“Medical evidence shows 10-13 year olds don’t have the neuro-developmental capacity to control impulses or foresee and understand consequences, so criminalising them like adults doesn’t work,” he said.
“Early contact with the criminal legal system actually increases a child’s likelihood of reoffending. We need to invest in solutions that work, not more prison cells.
“Raising the age of criminal responsibility is one part of a better approach to justice.”
The member for Maiwar has proposed an alternative model for addressing youth crime, advocating for early intervention and prevention, therapeutic responses to antisocial behaviour, and intensive case management, rather than incarceration.
Victorian Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe said Aboriginal children are disproportionately negatively impacted by the current age of criminal responsibility.
“65 per cent of the children under 14 that have been put in prison are First Nations babies. This shows the systemic racism in our policing and this Bill will help put an end to this injustice,” she said.
“First Nations families and communities need to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to raising our kids, because we know what works for our communities.”
Today: QLD Greens will introduce a bill to raise the age of legal responsibility to 14 and VIC Greens are pushing for bail reform to stop people being held in custody. We are strong despite ongoing injustice. The Greens are fighting to stop Black deaths in custody ✊🏿 pic.twitter.com/9PnDe1CPho
— Senator Lidia Thorpe (@SenatorThorpe) September 15, 2021
Gunggari person Maggie Munn is the lead campaigner on Amnesty International’s Raise the Age campaign.
She said the bill would keep Aboriginal kids from long term contact with the justice system.
“When you put a child into contact with [the justice] system, and they are sent to prison, they’re much more likely to reoffend when they come out,” she said.
“The root cause of their behaviour isn’t being addressed in prison.”
In April this year, Queensland saw laws passed allowing courts to fit teen offenders with GPS trackers and remove the presumption of bail for those caught committing offences while on bail.
The laws were widely condemned by youth justice and Aboriginal advocacy groups who feared the discorporate affect on young Aboriginal people.
Munn said the key to reducing youth crime is greater support, not incarceration.
“We know from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody that prison for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but particularly for children must be used as a last resort,” she said.
Supervision orders or detention should take a therapeutic, rather than punitive approach, she said.
“Making sure that there are programs in place that provide considerations around housing, health, then disability support, family support, all that kind of stuff, needs to come into this,” she said.
“If that were to happen, then the whole state would be much better off, because we know that those systems, those programs, all of those things that address the root cause of that behaviour.
“When they’re addressed, crime is non-existent.”
Munn said she doubts the bill will be able to garner the votes it needs to pass, with the current Queensland Government holding a demonstrated tough approach to youth offending.
“Queensland state government has a bit of a chequered history on in terms of this issue,” she said.
“On one hand, they’ve done a really great job in in the past year providing financial support to diversion programs, which look at being an alternative to prison, and providing support, and wraparound services for kids who are at risk.
“And then this year, they turn around and introduce these crackdown measures … As a result, we’ve seen more and more kids come into contact with the criminal justice system, and more kids being held in watch houses as well, which is really disappointing.”
By Sarah Smit