Introduction by Croakey: Governments have been provided with concrete examples of services they can support to help reduce the risks for children and young people of being drawn into damaging carceral systems.
The examples can be found in a new report and #RaiseTheAge website launched today by the Change the Record Coalition.
The report urges governments to scale up and fully fund services that help children get their lives on track rather than sending them to prison.
It recommends that when considering what programs to invest in, governments consider supporting :
- Community ownership and participation: genuine input, design and involvement of the affected community, families and young people
- Self-determination: for programs targeted at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, look for evidence of First Nations control, leadership or governance
- Cultural safety
- Trauma-informed practices
- Point of access (particularly ensuring young people can access the program without a requirement that they first enter the criminal legal system or the child protection system)
- Methodology and criteria.
Says Cheryl Axleby, Co-Chair of Change the Record:
“We have the solutions. There are alternatives all over the country that are changing children’s lives for the better and making our communities safer. From learning on country programs in Halls Creek, Western Australia, to trauma-informed mentoring in Victoria and wrap-around, culturally safe family support in the ACT: this is where governments should be investing our taxpayer dollars – not locking tiny children in concrete cells.”
In the article below, Sophie Trevitt, National Director of Change the Record, says it is time for governments to abandon archaic, ‘tough on crime’ policies that are letting children and the whole community down, and instead invest in the community-driven, evidence-based, age-appropriate alternatives that already exist – but that need political backing.
Sophie Trevitt writes:
Right around the country, children as young as 10 years old are being removed from their families and locked up behind bars – exposing them to potentially life-long trauma and harm.
The medical evidence is clear, prisons only harm and never help children. No child under the age of 14 years old should ever be pushed into the criminal legal system. Young children are not cognitively mature enough to reason, control their impulses,
and understand the consequences of their actions.
Children, communities, and society all benefit when young people do not come into contact with the justice system. Children enjoy better long-term outcomes and communities are made safer by diversion programs and detention alternatives,
which lower long-term offending rates.
On the other hand, the evidence is clear that criminalisation and contact with the justice system – including community
supervision – has counter-productive long-term impacts even where children are not detained.
Effective alternatives to detaining children already operate right around the country. These programs improve outcomes for young children, make communities safer, and are cheaper than the harmful criminal legal system.
Public support for alternatives
Everyone wants to live in safe and healthy communities, and no-one wants to see children suffering in police and prison cells.
For too long governments have been selling communities a lie that community safety can be found in knee-jerk ‘tough on
crime’ policies. The lived experience of communities from Queensland to the NT, Western Australia to Victoria all show that this is simply not true.
It is time for governments to come clean: archaic, ‘tough on crime’ policies are letting children and the whole community down. We are calling on governments to abandon these failing policies, and instead invest in the community-driven, evidence-based, age-appropriate alternatives that already exist – they just need the political backing!
In 2020, Change the Record commissioned polling with The Australia Institute which showed that the majority of Australians wanted governments to listen to the medical experts and raise the age. In 2021, Amnesty International research found that 81 percent of respondents supported alternatives to detention for children.
The public support is there. The solutions exist. So what’s the hold up?
Criminalising children makes communities and society less safe, and can cause irreversible harm to children in the long term. In fact, the younger a child is at their first sentence, the more likely it is they will reoffend, reoffend violently, and reoffend
into the adult jurisdiction.
Young people in trouble need support and age-appropriate, therapeutic interventions to protect them and the community. Children who come into contact with the criminal legal system are likely to have experienced poverty, homelessness, family violence, substance addiction, trauma, child protection involvement, and disability.
These are the underlying factors that appropriate community-based solutions can, and should, to improve outcomes for both the child and the whole community in the long term.
Tried and tested, new and emerging
There are both tried and tested community programs that are backed up with years of evidence and evaluations; and new and emerging solutions that need government funding to get up and running and have a chance at success. We need governments
to invest in both if we are going to give children the best chance at success.
We have compiled some of these community-based programs that are operating (or were operating, in the case of those which have been recently lost government funding) around the continent to showcase the breadth of solutions that already exist
as an alternative to police and prison cells.
• The article above is an extract from the new report, cross-published with permission. Click on this link to see an interactive map identifying programs for investment. The new website also includes resources to support advocacy, including a petition, tips for hosting a local community event, and writing to politicians.
See Croakey’s extensive archive of articles on child health and wellbeing
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