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December 3, 2021

Keeping children out of prison the focus for Red Cross

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Children should be playing games in school yards instead of sitting on the other side of a police interview table.

How young is too young for a child to be imprisoned? The Red Cross says 10 is too young and wants to see the age raised to 14.

Red Cross is calling for greater investment in prevention and early intervention activities that keep children away from coming into contact with the justice system.
It’s also added its voice to calls to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14, up from 10 years of age in all states and territories.

The Red Cross has added its voice to calls to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14, up from 10 years of age in all states and territories. Photo Louise Cooper

Joel MacKay, National Coordinator Justice Policy and Advocacy at Australian Red Cross said it’s particularly important as the school holidays approach. ‘While a recent agreement of State and Territory Attorneys-General to support developing a proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 is a good development, it needs to be revisited so that more children would be diverted away from prison.

‘By raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14, 500 children would have been diverted away from prison into programs that address the underlying causes of crime in 2020-21. However, by only raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12, just 43 children would have been diverted,’ he said.

Giving children the support they need to thrive

‘It is not in the best interest of any child to end up in prison. The minimum age of criminal responsibility must be raised to at least 14.

‘Raising the age isn’t just about keeping children out of prison, it is about giving them the support they need to thrive. If we really want to see a change in the rates of young people ending up in prison there needs to be a radical shift, investing more into activities that address the underlying causes of crime, rather than incarceration which is costly and doesn’t work.’

Youth diversion and prevention programs and services already exist, but need to be supported and scaled up.

National Coordinator Justice Policy and Advocacy at Australian Red Cross, Joel MacKay: ‘It is not in the best interest of any child to end up in prison’. Photo Susan Culliman.

Australian Red Cross runs a number of youth justice programs across the country, including Step Out, a mentoring program in South Australia supporting young people as they transition from custody to the community.

Youth Justice Practice Lead, at Red Cross South Australia Lisa Stanford says that when children come into contact with the justice system there is a high likelihood they will have further contact in subsequent years. ‘The program reduces recidivism rates by increasing social engagement, providing access to education and employment and improving resilience and self-determination.

‘To see children who should be playing games in schoolyards instead of sitting on the other side of a police interview table is hard. Our program aims to ensure young people know they are supported to make better choices,’ said Ms Stanford.

Red Cross also runs programs including youth homelessness and reintegration services in Queensland, Learner Driver programs and youth mentoring in New South Wales, and WorkRedi in Victoria.

Red Cross committed to improving the wellbeing of those experiencing extreme vulnerability

Mr MacKay says the Red Cross is committed to improving the wellbeing of those experiencing extreme vulnerability. ‘We know that children and young people coming into contact with the justice system are among some of the most vulnerable in our community.

‘These programs take a long term and holistic approach, addressing the underlying causes of offending behaviour, and ultimately support people to lead positive and productive lives.

‘Since Red Cross released its Vulnerability Report “Rethinking Justice” in 2016 we have been advocating for increased funding for programs that prevent crime and for governments in Australia to put justice reinvestment at the centre of justice policy.’


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