Doctors call for jail age increase
Doctors have joined a push to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years old.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) has made a submission to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children calling for the raising of criminal responsibility in the Northern Territory to 12, and for children under 14 to only be jailed for serious and violent crimes.
About 600 children under the age of 14 are sentenced to youth detention each year — 70 per cent are Indigenous children.
RACP senior fellow Dr Mick Creati wants the change to should be implemented Australia-wide.
“We fully support the call from the commission to raise the age of criminal responsibility,” Dr Creati said.
“Regardless of the other horrible things we saw in Don Dale, removing children from family, school and positive peer connection is damaging.”
Dr Creati said kids under 14 often do not physically possess the ability for impulse control.
“We're seeing children incarcerated for what we think are developmentally normal actions,” he said.
“Now, we know that these actions are sometimes violent, but we don't believe that the response to these actions is to commit these children to the youth justice system, these children need support.
“If they're removed from positive influences and their development is shaped by the youth justice system, that is very damaging to their adult identity.”
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child wants the age of criminal responsibility to be raised too.
“We know in countries where it has been increased, the rate of recidivism has decreased,” Dr Creati said.
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services co-chairman Wayne Muir said issues raised and discussed at the royal commission are “applicable to the entire nation”.
“You take a kid who is effectively a Grade Four kid and you're putting them in a cell behind barbed wire, the cell is about the size of a carpark space,” Mr Muir said.
“We've got to ask ourselves as a society, is that really the way we want to treat 10-year-olds? Surely there's a better way.”