The state of Tasmania has become the first jurisdiction in Australia to raise the minimum age of detention from 10 to 14. The move has been welcomed by Indigenous, legal, and human rights groups. The change has also re-ignited calls for all states and territories in Australia to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
In Australia, it’s estimated that 600 children aged between 10 and 13 have been incarcerated in the past year. Two-thirds are Indigenous.
Campaigners have argued that children of that age should be at home or at school — and not in “handcuffs or prison cells.”
The authorities in Tasmania agree. It will be Australia’s first state or territory to raise the minimum age of inmates in youth detention from 10 to 14. The changes are due to take place in 2024.
Cheryl Axelby is the co-chair of Change the Record, a First Nations organization that lobbies for reform in the criminal justice system.
She said young people shouldn’t be locked up.
“Children are actually harmed throughout their lifetime once they have actually gone through the criminal justice system. Having intervention - prevention, which is something that we have really strongly advocated across the nation means that children get a therapeutic response. It means that they get the support and targeted responses. There is great support in our community that they would like to see more therapeutic responses than us criminalizing our children,” said Axelby.
There have been historical allegations of abuse within Tasmania's youth justice system.
The state government says that detention can “traumatize young people” and “does not support rehabilitation or reduce the likelihood of reoffending.”
Officials have said that incarceration would still be a last resort “for a very small minority” who commit “the most serious offences.”
Campaign groups also want Australia to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 years to at least 14.
Human rights group Amnesty International Australia commissioned research in 2021 that showed most Australians want to raise the age of criminal liability.
In 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended 14 years as the minimum age.
Last year, several U.N. members called on Australia to act on the recommendations.