Children under 10 could be recruited to commit home burglaries and set on a path of crime by teenagers trying to avoid mandatory time behind bars, the President of the Children's Court warns.
Judge Denis Reynolds also warned that a "tsunami" of antisocial young offenders would be created unless the community tackled the causes of problems facing young Aboriginals, who continue to be grossly over- represented in the youth justice system by children with lives characterised by extreme disadvantage and vulnerability.
In a speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School's eminent speakers series, Judge Reynolds said the proposed changes to mandatory sentencing for home burglaries would inevitably lead to a significant increase in the number of children in detention.
He said the State's only detention centre for young offenders could not cope with the increase, which was economically unaffordable and unsustainable.
Judge Reynolds warned of an increased risk of another riot at Banksia Hill, which was extensively shut down and partially closed after a rampage by more than 70 young offenders in January last year.
"Extending mandatory sentencing when the detention estate is not functioning properly and is in a stage of recovery and reform is untimely and unwise," he said. "Put simply, putting something which is broken under more stress will inevitably lead to failure."
Judge Reynolds said there was an increased risk of suicide and self-harm by children as the detention muster grew.
"While many children in detention are resilient, resilience can have its limits and a background of dysfunction, abuse and neglect does not provide a good base for successfully coping with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness," he said.
Judge Reynolds said hardened offenders would become even more hardened by longer terms of detention. "The release of more hardened, aggressive and disconnected children back into the community will increase the risk of them reoffending and thereby expose the community to greater risk," he said.
Judge Reynolds said the changes could encourage teenagers to recruit children under 10, who are under the age of criminal responsibility, to commit home burglaries and hand over the proceeds.