Over the past six years there has been a dramatic rise in homicide related charges against West Australian children aged between 12-17 years old. Since 2010 there has been over 50 homicide-related child charges, which encompasses murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and driving occasioning death. In December last year, 120 children were being held in Banksia Hill Detention Centre, 25 convicted of offences against another person, 22 for robbery and extortion and 39 for break-ins and theft. A further 975 sentenced youths were being managed within the community at the same time. Around 10 per cent of the 15,340 charges against children in the 2014-15 financial year were violence-related.
Across Australia, children under the age of 10 cannot be charged with a criminal offence due to their immaturity. While people aged 10 or over can be deemed to have criminal responsibility, in practice, in all Australian jurisdictions a
presumption exists, that young people between the ages of 10 and 14 are incapable of crime.
There are separate justice systems for young people and adults in all states and territories, each with its own legislation. The upper age limit in the youth justice system is 17 in all states and territories except Queensland, where the age limit is 16. This refers to the age of the young person when the offence was committed (or allegedly committed), and means that people who are aged 18 or older when they commit an offence will be dealt with under the criminal legislation relating to adults.
However, it is possible for young people aged 18 or older to be under youth justice supervision. This includes young people who:
- Were apprehended for an offence (allegedly) committed when they were aged 17 or younger
- Entered supervision when aged 17 or younger and continue to be supervised within the youth justice system once they turn 18 (or they may be transferred to the adult correctional system)
- Are treated as a young person due to their vulnerability or immaturity (in some states and territories)
- Are aged 18–20 in Victoria, as they may be sentenced to detention in a youth detention centre rather than an adult prison where the court deems this appropriate (known as the ‘dual track’ sentencing system).
Some hard hitting facts:
- By their late teens, Australians are at their most dangerous with the highest rates of offending in several categories, according to figures from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC).
- In 2013, the offending rate for people aged 15 to 19 was three times that of all other offenders, 5340 per 100,000 compared with 4,479 per 100,000 for those aged 20 to 24.
- The AIC said while the figure had slightly declined in recent years, the highest number of offenders over the past four years had been in the 15 to 19 year-old group.
- A breakdown of figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals people aged between 10 to 19 represented just under a quarter of all offenders — despite only making up 14 per cent of the population.
In conclusion underage crime is a serious issue within Australia, and something seriously needs to be done, to tackle it and bring it under control.