Tasmania plans to lift youth detention age

·2-min read

Tasmania is planning to raise the minimum age of youth detention from 10 to 14 as part of broader reforms to the state's youth justice system.

Children and Youth Minister Roger Jaensch made the announcement on Wednesday, describing it as a key element in a best-practice approach.

The move has been welcomed by advocates but also prompted calls for the island state to lift the age of criminal responsibility, which sits at 10 nationwide.

Mr Jaensch said it is the state government's view that jurisdictions work to a nationally consistent position.

Tasmania's youth justice system has been in the spotlight in recent years, with historical abuse allegations levelled at staff at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre.

The government in September announced the centre would close within three years and be replaced by two new facilities. It has promised current detainees are safe.

Mr Jaensch said legislative reform to increase the minimum detention age would occur in line with a suite of reforms, anticipated to occur in late 2024.

"We know that detention does not support rehabilitation or reduce the likelihood of reoffending for younger children," he said.

"Early exposure to a detention environment can also further traumatise young people, expose them to problem behaviours of older detainees and increase criminal networks."

He said police powers related to arresting, searching and detaining young people aged 10 and over for the purposes of investigating crime would remain.

"There will always be a need for secure detention as a last resort for a very small minority of young people who commit the most serious offences, and to ensure community safety," Mr Jaensch said.

"This change will help ensure that the detention of young people in Tasmania is truly a last resort."

Tasmania's Commissioner for Children and Young People Leanne McLean welcomed the announcement but noted it wouldn't prevent 10-year-olds being held in an adult reception prison pending police investigation.

"Overwhelmingly, evidence tells us that children do better when they are kept out of the formal criminal justice system for as long as possible," she said.

Amnesty International backs the move but wants the age of criminal responsibility increased to 14.

"This is a significant racial issue in this country which we must confront because the fact is that First Nations kids are the ones overwhelmingly over-represented in the system," Amnesty Indigenous rights advisor Rodney Dillon said.

The Tasmanian Greens, Prisoners Legal Service Tasmania and First Nations justice coalition Change the Record have also called for the state's age of criminal responsibility to rise.

Mr Jaensch pledged additional options to divert young people away from the formal court system, a broader range of community-based sentencing options, plus trauma-informed, therapeutic and restorative interventions for high-risk young offenders.

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