Physicians say age of criminal responsibility must be raised to help end abuse in custody

14 May 2019

The RACP says shocking revelations in last night’s Four Corners investigation about abuse of young people in custody shows how urgent it is to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

RACP spokesperson and paediatrician Dr Mick Creati said that while youth incarceration and its health and societal impacts were very complex issues, until the age of criminal responsibility was raised Australia would continue to see unacceptable treatment and unjust outcomes in the judicial and penal systems.

“Until we see proper recognition of the fact that children under the age of 14 have less capacity than adults to process information, plan, recognise the consequence of their actions and minimal impulse control – we’ll continue to see very unjust and cruel outcomes,” Dr Creati said.

“The RACP is extremely concerned by reports of children as young as 10 years of age being held under extreme physical conditions with a lack of access to appropriate nutrition, hygiene facilities and medical care.

“This requires urgent action from the Queensland government in terms of immediate steps to review current young people in their care, but also around the country to raise the criminal age of responsibility.

“Adolescence is a critical time in a person’s development. Isolation and a lack of access to health services are damaging to the healthy development of a child.

“The RACP wants all governments to move to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years, in line with the significant body of evidence on child brain development and United Nations recommendations.

“Children experiencing significant neurological development can’t be held responsible in the same way as adults – it’s not just unjust it is not supported by evidence.

“A study published last year of 99 children in detention in Western Australia found that 89% had at least one severe neurodevelopmental impairment[1].

“Holding a child criminally responsible under these circumstances is highly ethically problematic.

“The fact that this issue is disproportionately affecting Indigenous young people is of additional and serious concern.

“If we then remove these children from families, schools and positive influence it becomes even more damaging – locking in a vicious cycle that is very hard to undo.

“In the mean time we need urgent action to ensure all young people in the care of the state are treated with dignity and have appropriate access to healthcare, support services and rehabilitation opportunities.”


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