Jesuit Social Services is calling on the federal government to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 to better address the needs of vulnerable children.
A new report says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are just five percent of the population but on an average day in 2016-17, represent half those under supervision.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Youth Justice in Australia 2016-17 report, published days before National Reconciliation Week last week, shows that while only about five per cent of young people aged 10-17 in Australia are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (ATSI), 50 per cent of young people aged 10-17 under supervision on an average day in 2016-17 were Indigenous.
“Over the last decade, Closing the Gap reports have shown that a disproportionate number of ATSI people face significant disadvantage in many aspects of life including health, education and employment,” says Jesuit Social Services chief Julie Edwards.
“The AIHW report shows many young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face challenges early in life that can lead to a lifetime of cycling in and out of the justice system. We need to intervene early to address the factors behind anti-social behaviour and break the cycle of offending”.
Ms Edwards says that the data also shows that the over-representation of young Indigenous people in the justice system is increasing.
“Five years ago, Indigenous children aged 10-17 were 15 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to have involvement with the justice system but now they are 18 times more likely.
Jesuit Social Services has recommended a range of solutions to prevent young ATSI people from having contact with the youth justice system, including raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 (the current age) to 14.
“No primary school aged child should be in prison. We should be taking a restorative approach with children aged under 14 to give them every opportunity to lead healthy lives,” Ms Edwards said.
“We also need a greater range of culturally-specific programs that work with young ATSI people and help connect them to culture, education and family. ”