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Overall youth detention down but proportion of Aboriginal youth is up

Overall youth detention trends in South Australia are down but the proportion of Aboriginal youth detention is the highest it’s been for at least five years.

The AIHW has just released its report into youth detention in Australia, which presents information on the youth detention population in Australia from June 2016 to June 2020.

Data for the June quarter of 2020, indicates that there were 30 young people in detention on an average night in South Australia. This shows a positive downward trend from the 45 young people in detention during the same quarter in 2019 and the 58 young people in 2016.

While SACOSS welcomes this downward trend in the overall number of young people in detention, we remain very concerned about the increase in the proportion of Aboriginal young people in detention - in 2016 it was 53%, in 2019 it reduced to 46% but in 2020 it increased to 54%, which is above the national average of 48%. This increase in the proportion is all the more significant when one considers that Aboriginal Australians make up just 6% of the Australian population aged 10–17.

The new National Agreement on Closing the Gap includes a target focused on the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in the criminal justice system, and aims to reduce the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people (10–17 years) in detention by 30 per cent by 2031. Given the current incarceration trends in our state, we have a long way to go to meet this target.  If SA is serious about reaching this target, it will be critically important that a coherent plan of action with clear benchmarks and interim targets is developed.

Across Australia, the data indicates that most (80%) young people in detention were aged 10–17, the remainder (20%) were aged 18 and older. This age profile worryingly reflects that a high number of younger people constitute the total cohort of young people in detention.

The inclusion of young children in the youth detention population, reinforces the urgent need to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14 years of age. Children as young as 10 should not be arrested by police, charged with an offence, brought before a court and locked in detention. It’s time for the federal and state governments to do what’s right and change the laws to raise the age, so that children aged 10 to 13 years are not in detention. For more information on raising the age of criminal responsibility, visit the ‘Raise the Age’ campaign website: https://www.raisetheage.org.au/

You can access the AIHW report here.

Published Date: 
Monday, 1 March 2021