Efforts to Close the Gap must include raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14

17 March 2022

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) says raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years old is crucial to Close the Gap and ensure better health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Currently, Indigenous young people account for around 65% of children in prisons under 14 in Australia[1].

RACP President Professor John Wilson says “The 2021 Close the Gap report includes a call for governments to take preventative and rehabilitative approaches to child and adult incarceration. Reducing rates of juvenile incarceration is one of the obvious first steps.”

“We must support Indigenous leadership and commit to working with them on issues affecting their communities. Accountability and action to Close the Gap must be delivered.

“On Close the Gap Day, we are calling for all Australian states and territories address the incarceration of Indigenous children and raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years is in line with the best health evidence.”

The RACP, other medical experts and human rights groups have been calling on all states and territories to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14.

RACP spokesperson and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Committee Chair Professor Ngiare Brown says, “Around six hundred children under the age of fourteen are incarcerated annually.

“The fact that Indigenous children account for sixty-five per cent of youth incarcerations is a harrowing statistic. The human impact of this is unfathomable. This must be addressed.

“As the RACP has emphasised, along with other medical and First Nations experts, there is substantial evidence showing the detrimental and long term effects youth incarceration has on physical and psychological health and wellbeing.

RACP Spokesperson, paediatrician, and adolescent health specialist Dr. Mick Creati says, “More must be done to ensure children are not incarcerated for behaviours that are a direct consequence of their young age, their disability or their earlier trauma and provide these children with the care, support and treatment that they need and that preserves their dignity and human rights.”

“We have repeatedly called on all Attorneys General to raise the age of criminal responsibility – we reiterate this call on Close the Gap Day and encourage meaningful leadership to progress this critical reform.”

Last month NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet announced the state government’s commitment to delivering better outcomes for Indigenous people. The RACP says such commitments must be accompanied by real action to address significant disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians.

Further information can be found in the RACP submission to the Council of Attorneys General July 2019.

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