Indigenous kids are “warped” by incarceration
A host of health and human rights organisations are calling for Indigenous children to be kept out of prison.
Of the close to 600 children aged 10 to 13 years who are imprisoned each year in Australia, 65 per cent are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, expert United Nations bodies, human rights organisations, medical and legal bodies and academics are calling on Australian governments to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
Associate Professor Kris Rallah-Baker, President of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association, told The Lamp that Indigenous doctors and health practitioners are seeing “the effects of youth incarceration echoed in poor health outcomes, including mental health. The current policy sees children as young as 10 warped by a justice system explicitly designed to root out and reform adult criminals”.
The Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association is one of many organisations supporting the Raise The Age campaign, which is calling on the age at which children can be arrested or locked up to be raised from 10 to 14 years.
Prisons are “not a healthy environment for our kids”, Associate Professor Kris Rallah-Baker said.
“We need to find culturally and medically safe alternatives as soon as possible. Following the signing of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap in July this year, AIDA hopes to see reform in this regard over the coming years.”
Australia out of step internationally
Australia’s low age of minimum criminal responsibility is out of step with international standards. Children aged 10 to 13 years old are going through significant growth and development. It is also rare for children aged 10–13 years to be charged with a serious offence of violence. The majority of children funnelled into the criminal legal system are dealt with for offences of theft, burglary and property-related crime.
Rather than criminalise trauma in young children’s lives, the Change the Record organisation is calling on governments to address the underlying causes of their behaviour and help them to thrive, and provide health, education and social services that are therapeutic and developmentally appropriate, rather than punitive.
Cheryl Axleby, Co-Chair of Change the Record said: “If governments were serious about ending the mass imprisonment of our people, then they could have taken the straightforward step at the meeting of attorneys-general in July to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 years old to 14. We are disappointed in their failure of leadership.
“But this campaign is not over. We have seen an outpouring of support for Raise The Age – over 136,000 people have signed our petition calling for change.
“We have the support of the majority of Australians; now each state and territory must show leadership and take urgent action to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 years old to 14 years old and keep hundreds of children every year out of the quicksand of the criminal legal system.”
Things you can do to support the Raise the Age campaign
Watch: the film In My Blood It Runs, about 10-year-old Arrernte boy Dujuan. It follows Dujuan as he grows up in Alice Springs, runs away from school and tries to reconnect with his culture while coming close to being incarcerated. The film’s producers have set up a website www.inmyblooditruns.com where you can download the film and hold virtual screening parties with discussion resources. Dujuan recently addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to call on the Australian Government to treat kids like him better.
Write: to your government and attorney general asking them to take action for Indigenous education and juvenile justice reform www.inmyblooditruns.com/takeaction/
Sign: the Raise The Age Campaign petition: www.raisetheage.org.au/home#petition
Who is behind the #RaiseTheAge campaign?
The campaign has been developed by a coalition of legal, medical and social justice organisations, including Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, Australian Medical Association, Royal Australasian College of Physicians and Public Health Association of Australia, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Change the Record, Human Rights Law Centre, Law Council of Australia and Amnesty International Australia.