VACCHO Calls for Action on Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility

Jan 10, 2022

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) welcomes the Victorian Government’s willingness to raise the age of criminal responsibility – however we urge the Victorian Government to be bold and courageous, to raise the age to 14.

The Meeting of Attorneys General (MAG) decision to ‘support developing a proposal to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 including with regard to any carve outs, timeline and discussion of implementation supports’ is not consistent with medical research, and the consensus amongst health clinicians who have stipulated that a child’s brain development is no further advanced between a 10 year old, and a 12 year old.

Therefore, as the peak body protecting the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in Victoria, VACCHO is deeply concerned about the detrimental impacts that criminalising children younger than 14 has on their development, and long-term health outcomes, in addition to the disruption to their learning journey through the education system.

Aboriginal young people are 13 times more likely than their non-Aboriginal peers to be under justice supervision on an average day in Victoria. If the Victorian Government decide to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 – against expert medical advice – Aboriginal children will continue to be disadvantaged, and experience poorer outcomes than their non-Aboriginal peers.

Medical evidence has shown that a child’s brain continues to develop into their early twenties, impairing their ability to make rational and safe decisions, which is more so challenging for a child who may be living with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) as their level of risk taking may be triggered by their impulsivity as ADHD impacts upon an individual’s impulse control.

Children who come into contact with the youth justice system from an early age are at higher risk of disengaging from education, and have decreased access to employment opportunities, which are two fundamental social determinants that ensure good health outcomes across a person’s life span. As a community, it is our responsibility to support the best possible outcomes for all children in Victoria and keep them safe.  

Noting, that offending is a behavioral issue that must be addressed through applying a health-based lens, in the context of a model of care, which is trauma informed and aligned to the unmet health needs of vulnerable children who are often living with additional complexities that are often not recognised in the context of health-based model of care, in the youth justice system.

Premier Daniel Andrews’ steadfast commitment to following expert medical advice kept the Victorian community safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. By following expert medical advice and raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years of age, the Premier would lead the way to improving outcomes for Victorian children and keeping the community safe.

VACCHO respectfully calls upon the Victorian Attorney General and the Victorian Premier to join the ACT Government in leading the way in creating a responsible, safe and a more humanistic approach to the youth justice system by raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years and investing in early intervention, prevention and diversion programs for all Victorian children and young people.

VACCHO supports the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service’s call for the Victorian Government to ‘take heed of the position of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Committee has asked Governments to acknowledge the scientific findings and increase the minimum age to at least 14 years, as well as fixing an age limit below which kids may not be detained, such as 16 years.’

VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher would like to see Victoria take a more informed approach by taking action on raising the age, and welcome the recently announced ACT Government’s commitment to continue to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14, despite MAG’s recent proposal.

“Victoria should be leading the way for increasing the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years of age. I welcome steps taken from the ACT Government to change these harmful laws and Victoria must also act – we must not continue to allow our children to suffer.”

“In Victoria we have seen Aboriginal children aged 12 and 13 in custody instead of engaging in their last year of primary school, or their first year of high school. Raising the criminal age of responsibility to 12 will not prevent Aboriginal children from being disadvantaged across all life outcomes.”

“Contact with the criminal justice system also stigmatises young people, and makes it more likely that they will have ongoing contact with the system.”

“VACCHO believes there should be a greater focus and investment in evidence-based trauma informed intervention programs that address the causes of offending behaviour, and provided targeted supports and interventions that reduce, rather than increase, the likelihood of reoffending.”

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VACCHO is the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing in Victoria – the only one of its kind – with 33 Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations as Members. VACCHO Members support over 65,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria, and combined are the largest employers of Aboriginal people in the state.