Victoria’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People says knee-jerk reactions by governments to crack down on youth crime are “disappointing” and driven by media.
The comment comes as both the Northern Territory and Queensland governments push ahead with a range of measures aimed at tackling youth crime in their jurisdictions, despite criticism that the changes will be detrimental to Closing the Gap targets that include youth incarceration rates.
Commissioner Justin Mohamed says evidence shows a “tough on crime approach” doesn’t work.
“It’s very disappointing that the media grabs hold of certain things – the general public don’t understand all the facts and the government then has this response to come down hard on crime.”
Mr Mohamed said as people in this field know, “many of our young people come from traumatised backgrounds that experienced being removed from their families, removed from their traditional lands, being abused themselves, and we aren’t focusing on how we can make young people stronger and healthier – but just this idea that if we lock them up or we come down hard on crime, that’s going to fix it,”
“Evidence shows us that that doesn’t fix a young person, a number of young people that enter the system at an early age re-enter it, so we know it’s not fixing it. We’ve got to be better than just saying we’re going to come down hard on crime, we need to be able to work collectively with communities and families and make sure that we give these young people the best that we can in their times of need.”
Meanwhile, more than 70 organisations have issued a call for federal, state and territory governments to commit to raising the age of criminal responsibility.
The group, which includes the national peak body for GPs, signed a statement this week addressed to the Meeting of Attorneys-General strongly supporting the Raise the Age campaign which is advocating for the age to be raised to 14.
Recent statistics show children under 14 who enter the justice system are more likely to be experiencing underlying trauma, have an undiagnosed disability and come from a low socio-economic background.
On an average in June 2020 Indigenous kids were 17 times more likely as young non-Indigenous kids to be in detention.
Commissioner Mohamed says raising the age to 14 is the “minimum” action the government could take.
“For us, it’s a minimal step. Our position from the commission here in Victoria is very strong: the age needs to be raised, and there’s no consideration for anything less than 14 [years of age].”