This week we cannot have avoided being made aware of the treatment of primary school aged child ‘prisoners’ in a Perth justice centre. This was a picture of trauma, disadvantage, distress and injustice. And it was not the first time.
At the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Period Review (a three year cycle of review) of Australia’s compliance with international human rights charters to which we are signatory, 29 of 47 countries made a recommendation relating to the age of criminal responsibility as demonstrated in the recommendation by the Republic of Maldova: “[That Australia] adjust the national child justice system in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in particular raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years of age”.
The eyes of the world are on Australia in relation to action on this deeply troubling situation.
And during the week Rebecca Lee, President of the Law Society of Western Australia said “Sending children to the main maximum-security prison in WA is not the right solution and there needs to be a rethink. The WA Government needs to urgently look at how it can redirect funding to the programmes that work to reduce the root causes of crime before behaviour escalates, and how to house children appropriately when either bail is inappropriate, or a custodial sentence is to be imposed. The system is broken if juvenile detainees are being housed in conditions described as cruel and punishing, and as having no rehabilitative effect…This should not be the intent or the impact of our justice system.”
Last Friday on Remembrance Day I went into Port Phillip Prison in Melbourne for a ceremony to mark the work of my late husband as a prison chaplain for 15 years, and that of his colleague who also recently passed away. The impact of the pandemic had prevented such an occasion until now. After the RAT tests, security screening and multiple doors needing to be locked and unlocked both families made our way to a place marked by memorial plaques and a beautiful garden designed carefully distract. There followed a ceremony and a “celebration” with work colleagues.
However meaningful this event was for us and our family, this is not and should never be a place for children.