Ten-year-olds would no longer be held responsible for crimes under a proposal to cut youth offending in Queensland.
Former police commissioner Bob Atkinson has recommended increasing the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Queensland from 10 to 12.
The age of criminal responsibility is 10 in all other states and territories and Mr Atkinson said the change should be adopted nationally.
It is one of 77 recommendations in his report on Youth Justice, which the State Government will now put out for public consultation.
The report cites a 2017 information paper by the Queensland and Family and Child Commission (QFCC) that suggested children between the ages of 10 and 12 had not reached a stage of developmental maturity to be held criminally responsible for their actions.
It said a lower age of criminal responsibility further victimised children who were already victims of circumstance.
- Lift age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 with national agreement
- Electronic monitoring for 16-17-year-old offenders released into employment
- Police discretion not to prosecute minor offences
- More detention options including residential programs
- More options for court orders and sentences
- Schools to be focal point for early intervention
- New detention centres to be smaller and more specialised
- Reduce number of children entering detention for first time (516 in 2016-17)
He also recommended 16 and 17-year-old offenders should be released into employment fitted with electronic ankle bracelets, and some minor offences should not be prosecuted.
The report suggests more diversionary and education programs should be set up to give police and the courts other options besides putting young people in detention, although Mr Atkinson acknowledged that could be costly.
He also emphasised the need for early intervention because authorities sometimes recognised potential problems in very young children in Prep and Year One.
He said police should have the discretion to send children into programs rather than prosecuting them for minor offences such as fare evasion.
Mr Atkinson said Queensland should push for the age of criminal responsibility to be increased nationally. (ABC News: Gordon Fuad)
“We’re not saying here that we want people to get away with things, we’re not saying we want to be soft,” he said.
“We’ve said right at the outset of the report that public safety is absolutely paramount with this.
“But I do think that without being soft in any way there are more sensible and better ways we can approach a whole range of issues.
“We just can’t keep building youth detention centres and increasing the numbers of children in them.
“The reality is that our two youth detention centres are already over capacity.”
‘We cannot keep doing the same thing year after year’
Child Safety Minister Di Farmer said there were no quick fixes, but changes were needed in the youth justice system.
“There is no simple solution to addressing youth crime,” Ms Farmer said.
“However we do know that we cannot keep doing the same thing year after year after year and expect the results to be different.
“Young people do need to be accountable … but just locking them up and throwing away the key, naming and shaming, those things don’t work.
“We’ve got to look at the causes and we’ve got to address that head on.”
Seven 17-year-olds were still in adult jails in Queensland, Ms Farmer said, but there would be none by the end of October.
The age at which a child can be held criminally responsible for their actions is 10 under federal law, which is the same as England and New Zealand.
But in Scotland eight-year-old children can be charged, and in Ireland seven is the minimum age.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC), requires signatory countries to establish a minimum age below which children are presumed not to have the capacity to break the law.
Sisters Inside founder Debbie Kilroy said raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12 did not go far enough.
“We were pushing for 14 [years old] … it’s a standard that’s across the Western world,” she said.
“But it’s a start — at least we have a recommendation to get 10 and 11-year-olds out of detention centres.”
Ms Kilroy said she was confident the recommendations, if implemented, would reduce the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children facing imprisonment.
She said governments needed to do more to address poverty and housing affordability to stem the cycle of youth offending.
Opposition not convinced
Opposition justice spokesman David Janetzki rejected the call not to prosecute minor offences.
“Asking the police to make a decision when or not to enforce the law is unacceptable,” he said.
“We can’t have young offenders sitting at home with a GPS device playing Xbox.”
Mr Janetzki said getting the agreement of all states and territories to lift the age of criminal responsibility to 12 would be a long process.
“What we have again today is just a review with recommendations for a strategy, not an actual solution.”