Thursday 1 December 2016

The National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell has called for Australia to ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) as soon as possible to ensure better oversight of youth justice detention.

The Children’s Rights Report 2016, tabled today in Federal Parliament, outlines the key findings of an investigation into the oversight of youth justice detention in Australia by the National Children’s Commissioner.

The report calls for all jurisdictions to review how their existing systems of monitoring and inspection meet the criteria under OPCAT and to amend their laws and policies. The recommendations in the report are underpinned by direct consultation with children and young people residing in detention facilities.

“Children and young people in youth justice detention don’t always know that they have the right to access the basic things they need,” said Commissioner Mitchell.

“When we were confronted by shocking CCTV footage of children being mistreated in Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin and other centres around Australia, many in the Australian community have asked: why is this happening in twenty-first century Australia? Given it was known about by public officials, with at least one published report detailing the incidents, why was nothing done?”

Commissioner Mitchell noted that ratifying and implementing OPCAT would be a significant step towards protecting the human rights of people in all forms of detention in Australia.

“It has been 7 years since Australia signed OPCAT, and yet we are still waiting for ratification,” said Commissioner Mitchell.

“I can only wonder whether incidents like those at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre would have been prevented had the oversight mechanisms of the OPCAT been in place.”

Commissioner Mitchell has also called for an end to mandatory sentencing for children and young people in all Australian jurisdictions and for children to be separated from adults in detention, in line with the requirements of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“While children who commit offences are mostly treated well, there are a few key areas where Australia lags behind the international standards set under the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” said Commissioner Mitchell.

“In the report tabled today, I recommend that the age of criminal responsibility be raised from 10 years to 12 years, in line with the minimum international standard set by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

“Many children involved in the criminal justice system come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have complex needs that are better addressed outside the criminal justice system. Raising the minimum age would also help decrease the rate of overrepresentation of Indigenous children in prison.”

In the report, Commissioner Mitchell advocates for justice reinvestment as a possible strategy for addressing the underlying social and economic causes of children and young people coming into contact with the youth justice system and to divert children away from detention.

“I would encourage other jurisdictions to look at the innovative programs like the Justice Reinvestment campaign and Youth Koori Court in New South Wales,” said Commissioner Mitchell.

“Justice reinvestment is about re-orienting investment from costly tertiary services like prisons, police and child protection systems and into prevention and diversionary focused actions, services and programs in communities.

“We need to consider how we can balance the need for children and young people to see that their actions have consequences while also breaking the cycle of imprisonment in disadvantaged communities.”

Register to attend the launch of the Children's Rights Report on Friday 2 December at the Australian Human Rights Commission office in Sydney.

> Read the report.