Raise the Age: a new issue on the voter radar

Raise the Age: a new issue on the voter radar
Carol Saffer

Three candidates who stood for the Victorian seat of Melbourne committed, if elected, to keep very young children out of the criminal legal system and prisons by raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14.

In the lead-up to the 2022 Victorian state election, voters wanted to know what the contestants had to say on specific issues.

Smart Justice for Young People polled all candidates to commit to keeping very young children out of the criminal legal system and prisons by Raising the Age of criminal responsibility to at least 14.

As previously reported in Inner City News, some of these kids end up locked up right in the heart of Melbourne at the Parkville Youth Justice Precinct.

At 5pm on Friday, 18 November, seven days before ballot boxes opened on Saturday, 26 November, more than 230 candidates from various parties had committed to raising the age and making this a priority if elected.

“We know that children belong in schools and playgrounds, never in prison and police cells,” a Smart Justice for Young People spokesperson said.

Independent candidate for Melbourne Laylah Al-Saimary, one of those 230 candidates, said it was essential to raise the age of criminal responsibility for all youth, particularly Indigenous youth.

Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 16 would be a step in the right direction. 

“Look at how many of our young people are locked away, [some] as young as 10,” she said.

“On release, many are depressed, and significant numbers attempt to take or do take their own lives.”

Ms Al-Saimary said suicide was the primary cause of death for Indigenous young people from 15 to 24.

“We want to see all juvenile centres closed and the money used to keep these monsters opened channelled into connecting young people to Country, closely supervised by respected Elders, and then these young people giving back to the community.”

State Greens MP for Melbourne Ellen Sandell said locking up children as young as 10 was a national disgrace. 

“Children should be supported and protected, not put through the criminal justice system, which also increases their likelihood of re-offending,” Ms Sandell said. 

 

“Across Australia, 65 per cent of children in prison are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, so this is also an issue of justice for First Nations people.” 

 

“Victoria must join the ACT and raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14, like the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has called for.”

“The Greens already have a Bill before the Victorian Parliament to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14; this reform could happen tomorrow.”

The third Melbourne electorate candidate to support Raise the Age, Colleen Bolger, said it was egregious that children were incarcerated instead of given the support they needed to lead a full life.

“Victorian Socialists support raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years old as part of our platform of fighting for alternatives to prison, including more funding for mental health support, public housing and drug and alcohol rehabilitation,” Ms Bolger said. Smart Justice for Young People is a coalition of more than 40 leading social services, health, legal, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and youth advocacy organisations working together to create change for children and young people who come into contact with the justice system.

The group works together to shift political and public attitudes, advise governments on innovative, evidence-based approaches, and challenge policies and practices that harm young people.

The coalition accesses the experiences and voices of young people, experienced practitioners on the ground, leading researchers and health experts, and communities across Victoria. 

More than 100 organisations now support the Raise the Age campaign in every state and territory, with new groups signing up weekly.

Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Inquiry into Victoria’s Criminal Justice System, overseen by the bipartisan Legal and Social Issues Committee, recommended that the Victorian Government raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility. •

 

Caption: Photo by Rodnae Productions.

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