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Bitter disappointment at delays in raising the age of criminal responsibility

[by Jodi Hoffmann]

Dennis Eggington. Image: supplied

The Aboriginal Legal Service of WA Ltd (ALSWA) is bitterly disappointed that the Council of Attorneys-General (CAG) has delayed the decision to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

ALSWA has been a strong advocate for change for many years through its long history of working with children in WA’s criminal justice system. 

“Our extensive experience shows that there is an alarming over-representation of young Aboriginal people in detention” said ALSWA CEO Dennis Eggington.

At the time of the WA Inspector of Custodial Services 2017 inspection of Banksia Hill, (WA’s only juvenile detention centre), Aboriginal people comprised approximately 70% of the Centre’s total population.

Mr. Eggington says that many of these children are affected by direct and intergenerational trauma,  cognitive impairments, intellectual and developmental disabilities and Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Many also face the additional hurdles of socio economic disadvantage and mental health issues. 

His comments are supported by a 2017 Telethon Kids Institute study, which found that 89% of children in WA’s Banksia Hill Detention Centre had at least one form of severe neurodevelopmental impairment, while 36% were found to have FASD.

“It’s an absolute tragedy that the practice of imprisoning children under 14 has been in place for so long.  I can’t even begin to imagine how life changing that has been for both the kids, and their families.  Prison is no place for a child and it’s difficult to comprehend the bleak outcome that this practice has placed on already disadvantaged children” said Mr. Eggington.

“Further delays in raising the age will continue to have drastic effects on our young people and their families. Fair minded Australians want this change but their calls are being ignored. We need to nurture our kids and steer them in the right direction, not lock them away in cells”.

 ALSWA urges the WA government to take leadership on this issue and raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 for Western Australian children.

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