Young children do not belong in the criminal justice system, including prison. In consideration of Queensland’s Human Rights Act 2019 and following evidence of how best to respond to young children who engage in criminal activities, the Queensland Parliament should raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 10 to 14 years of age, and provide services and support to children, families, and communities.
QCOSS members are supportive of raising the MACR to 14. In a survey conducted in November 2021, 100 per cent of our member organisations supported raising the MACR, with two-thirds of respondents providing services to children and families who were in contact with the youth justice system.
Data on youth offending shows that the number of children and young people aged 10-17 coming to police attention in Queensland has generally reduced, dropping by 22 per cent in the decade to 2018. On any given day during 2019-20, 17 children aged 10-13 were imprisoned in Queensland’s youth detention centres.
A specific service-based response to young children engaging in criminal behaviour in Queensland should be designed and implemented, with the following characteristics:
- Prioritise and invest in early intervention, prevention and diversion as the most effective ways to reduce child and youth offending and re-offending.
- Be child-centred, strengths based and trauma-informed. This includes responding to the holistic needs of the child, the underlying causes of their offending, and the needs of their family and natural supports.
- Assume shared accountability and responsibility for offending, on the basis that most child offending is the result of the failings of the institutions intended to support children.
- Commit to addressing the overrepresentation of children in the criminal justice system who are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, from a culturally and linguistically diverse background and/or who are in connection with the child protection system.
- Adopt a justice reinvestment framework that focuses on prevention and place-based responses to address disadvantage.
Government must work collaboratively with children, families, communities and the community sector to design a framework and service system to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
If the Queensland Government is genuinely committed to Closing the Gap, raising the age of criminal responsibility is a key reform needed to reduce the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system.