Did you know Queensland's current laws allow 10 year old children to be locked in prison?
Our minimum age of criminal responsibility is out of line with international jurisdictions and our human rights obligations. It also doesn't work to keep the community safe.
Medical evidence shows 10-13 year olds don’t have the neurodevelopmental capacity to control impulses or foresee and understand consequences, so criminalising them like adults doesn’t work. In fact, early contact with the criminal legal system has been shown to increase a child’s likelihood of reoffending. We need to invest in solutions that work, not more prison cells.
I've introduced a Bill to Queensland Parliament to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years old. You can read the Bill here, and the Explanatory Notes here, and you can watch my speech introducing the Bill here, or read it here.
- Raises the minimum age at which a person is criminally responsible for any act or omission from 10 to 14 years old
- For a child who committed an offence before they were 14, requires that:
- If being held in detention for the offence, they are released as soon as possible and no later than 1 month from commencement;
- If being held in a watch house for the offence, they are released as soon as possible and within no more than three days;
- The offence is expunged from their criminal history;
- Any identifying particulars (such as fingerprints or DNA samples) taken in relation to the offence are destroyed; and
- No proceedings or orders can be commenced or continued against them for that offence.
When transitioning a child from detention or a watch house, efforts must be made to ensure they have access to things like accommodation, parental or guardianship support and health and other support services.
Alongside my Bill, I've proposed an alternative, staged model to replace the criminal system for children under 14, including early intervention and prevention, therapeutic responses to antisocial behaviour, and intensive case management for serious problematic behaviour.
A multidisciplinary expert panel outside of Youth Justice and Child Safety would be established to work with children and their families and refer them to support services, culturally appropriate community-led programs and restorative justice. Children’s hearings, similar to the Scottish model, could be held to determine whether small-scale, therapeutic supervision is necessary in the rare instances where children pose a serious risk of harm.
In July 2020, despite massive international pressure and support from criminologists, human rights groups, social sector workers, doctors and the broader community, Australia’s Council of Attorney-Generals indefinitely postponed the decision to raise the age. In October 2021, they said they were considering preparing a proposal to raise the age to just 12 - well below the absolute minimum recommended by the UN, medical experts, First Nations groups and more. The Queensland Government has previously said they’d leave it to COAG, but now it’s dropped off their agenda, it’s time for us to take action. The ACT Government has committed to raise the age, and Queensland should be next.
Raising the age of criminal responsibility is one part of a better approach to justice, and it'll help address the overrepresentation of First Nations people in prison. Overall, First Nations children aged 10-17 are 29 times more likely than their non-Indigenous counterparts to be sentenced to detention in Queensland. On average, 84% of children aged 10-13 in a Queensland detention centre on any given day identify as Indigenous. If the Queensland Government is genuinely committed to closing the gap and reducing Black deaths in custody, raising the age is a crucial first step.
My Bill has been referred to the Parliamentary Community Support and Services Committee for consideration, and public submissions closed on 30 November 2021. Next, there will be an opportunity for public hearings - details TBC.
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