Should QLD Raise The Age Children Can Be Imprisoned?
Human rights, medical and legal experts have called on the Queensland government to increase the minimum age children convicted of criminality can be imprisoned.
Amnesty International says 150 children aged 10 to 13 are incarcerated in Queensland's children's prisons each year, the highest number of all states and territories.
Campaigner Belinda Lowe said children imprisoned at a young age were more likely to offend as adults.
"It's critical to raise the age, too many childhoods are being lost in detention centres in Queensland," Ms Lowe told reporters on Thursday.
"We're not only taking away the lives of children now, we're taking away their futures."
Imprisoning children under the age of 14 also means they miss out on critical family support and community services that help shape their futures.
"They're the critical things that help them grow up safe and strong," she said.
Between 2016/17 the QLD locked up the most kids aged between 10 and 13 than any other state or territory is Australia. @DiFarmerMP must #RaiseTheAge kids are sent to prison to at least 14. pic.twitter.com/5QKjfyvT5q— Belinda Lowe (@BelAmnestyOz) August 9, 2018
"Without that support children will become stuck in the quicksand of the criminal justice system."
Amnesty International's call to lift the minimum age for criminal responsibility to 14 comes just weeks after former Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson recommended raising the age to 12 as part of broader reforms to Queensland's youth justice system.
Mr Atkinson proposed the state government lift the age, advocate for other states and territories to do so and legislate against remanding or sentencing 10 and 11-year-olds to detention except for very serious offences.
Indigenous children account for 70 per cent of youth detainees across the state, Amnesty International said, with property and theft offences making up a majority of crimes committed by all children.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service chief executive Shane Duffy said the current approach to youth crime wasn't working.
"We've got a massive number of young people sitting on remand in police cells," he said.
Mr Duffy said families not being able to afford bail meant many children would remain on remand for periods stretching longer than the sentences they are later given.
Current juvenile imprisonment rates were the highest in Queensland's history, he said, with more focus needed on the causes behind youth crime.
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said the Labor government had taken a "soft" approach in its response to youth crime, while simultaneously criticising it for overcrowding across the state's prisons.
Paediatrician Li-Zsa Tan, from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, said children under the age of 14 did not have the mental capacity to be held responsible for their actions.
"If a child the age of 10 is impulsive and makes a poor decision by getting into a stolen car, he's not really out there to make your day terrible," Dr Tan said.
"It's really because their brain is undergoing some wiring issues."