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Governments must urgently address youth justice crisis

Children's Rights

Joint statement from:

June Oscar AO Anne Hollonds Lorraine Finlay Chin Tan
Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Social
Justice Commissioner
National Children's Commissioner
Human Rights Commissioner
National Race Discrimination


The Australian Human Rights Commission calls on all Australian governments to urgently address the national crisis in youth justice to prevent further harm to children in detention, and to reduce youth offending through effective systems of support.

It is clear the current approach of tougher sentencing and bail laws, punitive conditions, building more children’s prisons for increasing numbers, and incarcerating children as young as 10 years old, is not working to keep the community safe.

The human rights of children in detention continue to be violated routinely, and their lives placed at serious risk. Last night’s Four Corners program showed examples of serious abuse, systemic failures, institutional racism, and neglect.

Australia’s lamentable treatment of young people in detention has long been well known, and the Commission has repeatedly raised these issues with Australian governments. We urge them to heed the advice of senior judges, prison officials and child development experts calling for alternative approaches.    

Australia’s National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds said: “All governments need to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years and implement evidence-based prevention, early intervention and diversion programs.”

Children arrive in detention with high rates of cognitive disabilities, trauma and mental health concerns. These children require specialist therapeutic care and conditions that support their health, learning and wellbeing.

Children and adolescents in detention who attempt suicide and self-harm require qualified acute psychiatric care. When they leave detention, these children require community-based care and support, including housing, education and healthcare, in order to reduce the likelihood of reoffending and to keep the community safer.

Commissioner Hollonds said: “Australia’s punitive approach is misguided and out-of-step internationally. We need a national taskforce to address the underlying causes of youth crime, with national leadership and collaboration across jurisdictions.

“We have failed these children, and this has gone on for too long. We need to take urgent action now to address the systems failures and chronic crisis in youth justice.”

The Commission has detailed these issues in a submission to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay is currently in Geneva highlighting concerns that Australia’s treatment of young detainees is breaching our international human rights obligations.

Commissioner Finlay said: “Violating the human rights of young offenders does not equate to justice for victims of crime. It is a stain on Australia’s human rights record, which also endangers the community because it leads to higher rates of recidivism.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar said: “Prison does nothing to rehabilitate young people. It only perpetuates cycles of trauma and leads to further youth offending. Prison is no place for a child.”

Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan said: “Structural racism and discrimination play a major role in causing trauma and behavioural complexities, which contribute to over-policing and high rates of detention.”

Tags Children