5 reasons why the age of criminal responsibility should be raised

28 July 2020
Children as young as 10 are in Australian prisons
Professor Judy Cashmore, from the University of Sydney Law School, outlines five urgent reasons why we must raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 now. "It's time to make the change," she says.

1. It should be a public health (not criminal justice) response

The vast majority of children involved in offending behaviour from age 10 to 14 are either children who will ‘grow out of it’ with proper support and without being brought into the juvenile justice system, or those who have a difficult personal, family or community background who need a public health response, not a criminal justice response.  

 2. The younger the child enters the criminal justice system the more likely they will reoffend 

Bringing children into the juvenile justice system has a criminogenic effect; that is the younger a child is at their first contact with the criminal justice system, the greater their chances of future offending.  

3. Indigenous children are disproportionately affected 

Most importantly, Aboriginal and Indigenous children are highly over-represented in this group of children so positive, culturally and age-appropriate responses are critical for these children to reduce this over-representation. 

4. It is expensive 

It is extremely costly to bring children into juvenile detention – that money urgently needs to go into therapeutic justice re-investment.  

5. It would be in line with the rest of world

Raising the age to 14 would bring Australia into line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The UN Committee has repeatedly recommended and most recently expressed its regrets at Australia’s lack of implementation of its previous recommendations, and remains seriously concerned about: 

(a) The very low age of criminal responsibility; 

(b) The enduring over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their parents/carers in the justice system. 

Judy Cashmore is Professor of Socio-Legal Research and Policy in the University of Sydney Law School and joint Professorial Research Fellow, School of Education and Social Work. (Photo credit: Pixabay)

Elissa Blake

Media Adviser (Humanities & Science)

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