• The changes will most likely affect Aboriginal communities living in the Northern Territory due to the large overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in detention (AAP)Source: AAP
The WA government is under pressure to raise the age of criminal responsibility from ten years old to 14 with children being arrested and charged over alleged offences including stealing pens and taking a bite of a stolen chocolate bar.
Sarah Collard

4 May 2021 - 12:32 PM  UPDATED 4 May 2021 - 12:34 PM

More than 70 peak organisations have endorsed calls from Social Reinvestment WA urging the state to raise the age of criminal responsibility from ten to 14 years old. 

The report ‘A Pathway to a Brighter Future for Western Australia’s most at risk children’ found almost 75 per cent of the average daily population in juvenile detention are First Nations children.

Indigenous children make up just five per cent of young people in WA. 

Social Reinvestment WA is urging the government to reform the juvenile justice system and put more funding into rehabilitation and prevention to support young people at risk. 

These children are currently being failed by the system, according the SRWA's  Co-Chair Daniel Morrison. 

"We need to do better as a community... The flow on effects from young children ending up in the justice system at young ages is damning. So much can be done at that age," Mr Morrison said. 

The Noongar, Yamitji and Gija man told NITV news more needed to be done to support young and vulnerable children.

“It’s humanely wrong to have kids that young in prison, in their early formative years. Kids need guidance and support, they don't need to be locked up," Mr Morrison said. 

Children arrested over pens, chocolates 

The report detailed the case of an 11-year-old Aboriginal boy from a regional town, arrested for allegedly stealing a pen and a pencil, valued at less than $10.00. 

Last year the boy was arrested, taken into police custody and police officers formally interviewed and questioned the child.

Another example given in the report is that of a 12-year-old Aboriginal girl who was charged with possession of stolen property, after her friend stole two chocolate bars and she took a bite from one of them. 

143 children aged between 10 and 13 were imprisoned in Banksia Hill Detention Centre without a sentence in 2018-19.

According to the latest data from the Australian Health and Welfare Institute in 2017–18, around 1,100 children aged 10–14 were under youth justice supervision in Australia on an average day.

The calls come after Australia faced international pressure from more than 30 nations at the United Universal Periodic Review, which examines countries' human rights records. 

Amnesty International: 'WA incarceration shameful' 

Amnesty International is backing the report and said the disproportionately high rate of Indigenous young people incarcerated is 'shameful' 

Australian Indigenous Rights Lead at Amnesty International, Nolan Hunter said the time for action is long overdue, urging the WA government to make the changes. 

"We're backwards as a country. When you look at what's happening with children in Western Australia, and across the country" Mr Hunter told NITV News. 

"It's absolutely scandalous. It's unacceptable," Nolan Hunter told NITV News. 

Mr Nolan said the situation is 'scandalous' and needed to be tackled within the current term of government. 

"It is unacceptable. This country really needs to wake up to itself. We are calling on the West Australian Government also to raise the age of 14 to 14 for children in incarceration." 

The ACT became the first jurisdiction in the country to commit to raising the age of criminal responsibility and legislation is expected to be introduced later in the year. 

Australian Attorney General Department 'committed' to reducing incarceration rates 

In a statement to NITV News,  the Australian Attorney-General’s Department said it is committed to working with states and territories, as well as the Minister for Indigenous Australians, to reduce the youth detention rate. 

"As Indigenous Australians are overwhelmingly incarcerated for state and territory offences, the Government is committed to working closely with the jurisdictions on this important issue," the statement reads. 

The Attorney General's office did not answer specific questions as to whether the matter would be addressed in the current parliamentary term, saying they are reviewing the issue. 

"Attorneys-General agreed in July 2020 that further work needed to occur to consider adequate processes and services for children who exhibit offending behaviour." 

The Council of Attorneys-General, bringing together the nation's jurisdictions, was set up last year to look at the issue, but despite pressure has resisted a national framework, arguing it's up to state and territories.

"Ultimately, it will be a decision for each jurisdiction whether to raise the minimum age... Work is underway to progress this matter out-of-session, with a timeframe yet to be settled."

The National Agreement on Closing the Gap is working on reducing the number of incarcerated children and adults as part of its justice targets — committing to cutting the incarceration rate by at least 15 per cent for Indigenous adults and by at least 30 percent for Indigenous children.

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