Media Releases - 23 August 2023

Opinion piece: “Tough on crime” approaches do not make communities safer

Punitive, populist, tough on crime responses to the harmful behaviour of children might make for good media, but they do not make Tasmanian communities safer.

Currently, Tasmanian children as young as 10 years old can be arrested, taken into custody, searched, brought before a court, and even detained.

However, as was discussed during Tuesday’s debate on a motion before Burnie City Council to not support a raise in the minimum age of criminal responsibility, criminalising children’s harmful behaviour isn’t an effective solution to this complex issue.

Children’s harmful behaviour does not emerge in isolation. Children do not simply wake up one morning and decide that today is a good day to behave in a way that might harm others.

Their behaviour emerges due to circumstances usually outside of their control including poverty, exposure to family violence, abuse, homelessness, disability, mental ill health and lack of opportunity. These are the issues that, if addressed, will lead to lower crime rates.

It is a sad indictment on our community when the go-to response for responding to harmful behaviour of children as young as 10 is the criminal justice system.

Tasmania Police, to their credit, work hard to divert children from the formal criminal justice system. However, they have few diversionary options available to them.

Many Tasmanian children are homeless, even children under the guardianship of the state. Mental health services are scarce and residential drug and alcohol services for children in Tasmania are non-existent.

This is the harsh reality of the situation right across Tasmania, including in Burnie.

There are far more effective ways to help young people to be accountable for their behaviour, and to ultimately change their behaviour, than through a criminalising response.

We need far greater investment in programs that support families to thrive and steer children away from engaging in harmful behavior in the first place, and an enhanced service system and a coordination service to help children and families when harmful or escalating behaviours emerge. I have outlined these measures in my recent advice to the Tasmanian Government on the age of criminal responsibility.

The evidence is clear – when children’s rights are upheld, and their individual needs are met – harmful behaviour decreases. However, effective responses take commitment and effort by everyone involved, including children and young people, their families, the community, and governments.

Leanne McLean
Commissioner for Children and Young People