.

  • Written by Eileen Baldry, Professor of Criminology, UNSW
Vulnerable children caught up in the criminal justice system can suffer long-lasting consequences, even from a short period behind bars. from www.shutterstock.com

Reports this week of an Indigenous boy with a disability held naked for days in a Brisbane police cell have once again raised the issue of how best to treat our most vulnerable young offenders, and the impact of their incarceration.

These impacts are long-term and stark, affecting both young people’s mental health and the course of their lives. Indigenous children and those with a disability are among children particularly at risk of the impacts of incarceration.

How does locking up young people in juvenile detention or in police cells affect their future? And how can we prevent them getting caught up in the juvenile justice system in the first place?


Read more: Abuse in youth detention is not restricted to the Northern Territory


This week’s example in Brisbane comes just a month after the ABC Four Corners investigation Inside the Watch House, which exposed Queensland’s increasing use of police cells (or watch houses) to hold children as young as 10, sometimes for several weeks.

The investigation showed how some children were held in isolation and others were placed with adult offenders. Records and cases recounted by key interviewees, including Queensland’s public guardian, told distressing accounts.

The investigation showed children, many with cognitive, mental health and other disabilities held in custody because there was nowhere else to take them. That’s because juvenile justice detention centres were full and there were few alternatives. Most of those children were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

How big a problem is this?

On an average night in 2018, there were 980 children held in juvenile detention centres across Australia. A total of 54% of them were Indigenous children who are 26 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in detention.

Most children in detention, and virtually all children held in police cells, are unsentenced – they have not been found guilty of an offence. The most common offences children are charged with are theft (over one-third of all offences), common assault, illicit drugs and public order.


Read more: Why are so many Indigenous kids in detention in the NT in the first place?


There are no national or state or territory data on children held in police cells but, as we saw in the Four Corners program, Queensland holds many children in watch houses.

Evidence from NSW shows many children with cognitive disability and challenging behaviour are held in police cells, often for their own safety or because no service or agency is willing or able to accommodate them. Most of these children are known to police as victims, or highly vulnerable to exploitation, before their arrest and detention.


Read more: Almost every young person in WA detention has a severe brain impairment


There are grave concerns about the effects of subjecting young children to detention of any kind. These concerns are multiplied many times when a child:

  • comes from a disadvantaged community
  • comes from a family under severe financial, health, housing and other forms of stress
  • has mental and/or cognitive, hearing or other disability
  • has experienced violence and abuse
  • is in out-of-home care, or
  • is an Indigenous child.

This is the profile of most children in custody.

What are the impacts of locking up a child?

What are the effects of locking up a child under 14 or 15 in a police cell or a juvenile justice detention centre?

Child development experts are clear that children’s brains and patterns of behaviour are still developing until their late teens. Teenage children are also experimenting with how to relate to the world around them, as well as testing social and cultural boundaries.


Read more: A parent's guide to why teens make bad decisions


Locking children up during these crucial years affects their development. Among other things, it increases children’s risk of depression, suicide and self harm; leads to poor emotional development; results in poor education outcomes and further fractures family relationships.

When children are held in isolation, the effects on a child’s health and well-being can be severe, long-term and irreversible. For example, given many children in detention have been victims of abuse, there is significant potential for re-traumatisation.

How about kids with disabilities?

Research on the pathways of children with a disability into the criminal justice system shows the earlier these children have contact with police, the greater their likelihood of being held in police cells and then juvenile justice detention.

They are likely to not receive disability and health services, or other supports such as disability-appropriate education and counselling. They are also more likely to transition into adult prison.

They have significantly lower educational outcomes than their peers and are much more likely to develop further mental illness and chronic health problems.

Setting a child’s life trajectory in this way is a breach of the rights of the child. It entrenches children in an offending culture.

Time to raise the age of criminal responsibility?

These negative outcomes for children have resulted in calls to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility – the age at which the state can hold a person responsible for a criminal offence.

In Australia, this is ten years of age. Australia is one of the few affluent countries to have such a low age. There is common law protection for children aged ten to 14. But in practice this has limited capacity to protect children in this age range.

There is overwhelming evidence that managing children through the criminal justice system leads not to rehabilitation and reformation, but to greater entrenchment in the criminal justice system. Yet, every year we place hundreds of children under 14 in detention.


Read more: Age-old question: when should children be responsible for their crimes?


In particular, the low age of criminal responsibility adversely affects Indigenous children. They make up more than two-thirds of children under 14 years who come before the courts and are sentenced to either detention or a community-based sanction such as probation.

The low age of criminal responsibility also gravely affects children with cognitive disability who may be highly vulnerable to exploitation and persuasion, have low impulse control and a lack of understanding of the impact of their actions.

Raising the age to anything less than 14 years old is unlikely to achieve the desired result of minimising the adverse consequences of criminalisation. Even a few days in a police cell sets children on the path to long-term involvement with the criminal justice system.

What else can we do?

Instead of criminalisation, early intervention to support vulnerable children coming from highly disadvantaged backgrounds would provide a hopeful future and not one trapped in the criminal justice system.

These supports depend on the particular child’s needs but can include family support, suitable accommodation, health services, disability support services, counselling, and in the case of Aboriginal children, connection to community-controlled organisations.


Read more: Rethinking youth justice: there are alternatives to juvenile detention


Eileen Baldry receives funding from the ARC and the NHMRC

Chris Cunneen receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Authors: Eileen Baldry, Professor of Criminology, UNSW

Read more http://theconversation.com/locking-up-kids-damages-their-mental-health-and-sets-them-up-for-more-disadvantage-is-this-what-we-want-117674

'Making up games is more important than you think': why Bluey is a font of parenting wisdom

Bluey is not just a TV success story - it also contains important parenting wisdom. IMDBBluey is a ground-breaking Australian children’s television series and the most downloaded show in ABC iV...

Koa Whittingham, Psychologist and Research Fellow, The University of Queensland - avatar Koa Whittingham, Psychologist and Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

Teeth 'time capsule' reveals that 2 million years ago, early humans breastfed for up to 6 years

The teeth in these _Australopithecus africanus_ skulls contain important evidence about the nutrition of these individuals as they grew up. Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Author providedHumans’ distant ...

Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Senior research fellow, Southern Cross University - avatar Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Senior research fellow, Southern Cross University

Four Corners’ forced labour exposé shows why you might be wearing slave-made clothes

Target, Cotton On, Jeanswest, Dangerfield, IKEA and H&M are among the brands in Australia sourcing cotton from Xinjiang. www.shutterstock.comWith China’s western-most province of Xinjiang be...

Yvette Selim, Interim Deputy Director, Anti-Slavery Australia, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Yvette Selim, Interim Deputy Director, Anti-Slavery Australia, University of Technology Sydney

Hand sanitisers in public won't wipe out the flu but they might help reduce its spread

It's quicker to use hand sanitiser than soap and water, which means people might be more likely to use it. ShutterstockThis year’s flu season is off to an early start, with 144,000 confirmed ca...

Trent Yarwood, Infectious Diseases Physician, Senior Lecturer, James Cook University and, The University of Queensland - avatar Trent Yarwood, Infectious Diseases Physician, Senior Lecturer, James Cook University and, The University of Queensland

Wind and solar cut rather than boost Australia's wholesale electricity prices

Power failure. It's gas, not wind, that's pushing up electricity prices. ShutterstockWholesale prices in the National Electricity Market have climbed significantly in recent years. The increase has co...

Zsuzsanna Csereklyei, Lecturer in Economics, RMIT University - avatar Zsuzsanna Csereklyei, Lecturer in Economics, RMIT University

Reading and writing assistance increases the chance of getting a Disability Support Pension

One in eight disability support claims rejected are because the applicant is unable to supply the requested information. ShutterstockThe 2019 Australian Conference of Economists is taking place in Mel...

Nary Hong, PhD candidate in Economics, UNSW - avatar Nary Hong, PhD candidate in Economics, UNSW

Meet the endangered Bunyip bird living in Australia's rice paddies

Endangered species are living happily in rice fields. Bitterns in Rice/Matt Herring, Author providedThe debate around the Murray-Darling Basin is often sharply polarised: irrigation is destroying the...

Matt Herring, PhD Candidate, Charles Darwin University - avatar Matt Herring, PhD Candidate, Charles Darwin University

Regional cities beware – fast rail might lead to disadvantaged dormitories, not booming economies

Many commuters already travel from regional cities to work in capital cities like Melbourne so what impacts will fast rail have? Alpha/Flickr, CC BY-NCGovernments are looking to fast rail services to ...

Todd Denham, PhD Candidate, School of Global, Urban & Social Studies, RMIT University - avatar Todd Denham, PhD Candidate, School of Global, Urban & Social Studies, RMIT University

Curious Kids: can people live in space?

People do live outside Earth – on the International Space Station! But humans have had to find a way to make the conditions there more like what we’re used to at home. Flickr/NASA's Marsh...

Jonti Horner, Professor (Astrophysics), University of Southern Queensland - avatar Jonti Horner, Professor (Astrophysics), University of Southern Queensland

Extremist mobs? How China's propaganda machine tried to control the message in the Hong Kong protests

When protesters took to the streets in Hong Kong, China's state media had several tactics for how to describe it: some outlets ignored it, while others railed against 'extremists'. Jerome Favre/AAPAs ...

Joyce Y.M. Nip, Senior lecturer, Department of Media and Communications; Department of Chinese Studies, University of Sydney - avatar Joyce Y.M. Nip, Senior lecturer, Department of Media and Communications; Department of Chinese Studies, University of Sydney

Top Beach Outfit Ideas Inspired by Fashion It Girls

Whether you are going on a beach vacation or just spending a lazy afternoon lying on the beach and listening to the waves crash the shore, the only thing that could make a carefree summer day even b...

Brigitte Evans - avatar Brigitte Evans

Southeast Asia was crowded with archaic human groups long before we turned up

The ancestral population of modern humans appears to have split as it moved across Asia. ShutterstockAround 55,000-50,000 years ago, a population of modern humans left Africa and started on the long t...

João Teixeira, Research associate, University of Adelaide - avatar João Teixeira, Research associate, University of Adelaide

Curious Kids: did the velociraptors have feathers?

Was velociraptor a feathered friend? Here's one artist's impression. ShutterstockCurious Kids is a series for children. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to curious...

Caitlin Syme, PhD in Vertebrate Palaeontology, The University of Queensland - avatar Caitlin Syme, PhD in Vertebrate Palaeontology, The University of Queensland

Voice evidence in trials: can a criminal suspect be identified just by the sound of his voice?

Prosecutors should be required to consult forensic linguistic experts on cases involving voice evidence, rather than solely relying on 'ad hoc' experts. ShutterstockA few months ago, I received a call...

Ahmar Mahboob, Associate Professor of Linguistics, University of Sydney - avatar Ahmar Mahboob, Associate Professor of Linguistics, University of Sydney

1 in 10 patients are infected in hospital, and it's not always with what you think

Drips and other medical devices were potential sources of infection. But no-one expected to find hospital-acquired pneumonia and urinary tract infections. from www.shutterstock.comMost people expect h...

Philip Russo, Associate Professor, Director Cabrini Monash University Department of Nursing Research, Monash University - avatar Philip Russo, Associate Professor, Director Cabrini Monash University Department of Nursing Research, Monash University

It's a bad year for flu, but it's too early to call it the worst ever – 5 charts on the 2019 season so far

The impact of the flu on a population can be measured by looking at figures including cases, hospitalisations and deaths. From shutterstock.comFrom early this year it’s been apparent the 2019 Au...

Ian Barr, Deputy Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza - avatar Ian Barr, Deputy Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza

The long history of gender violence in Australia, and why it matters today

In 2015, the Australian federal government proclaimed that violence against women had become a national crisis. Despite widespread social and economic advances in the status of women since the 1970s, ...

Alana Piper, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Alana Piper, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

Explainer: what Western civilisation owes to Islamic cultures

Sculpture of ninth-century Persian scholar Al-Khwarizmi in Khiva, Uzbekistan. Latin discovery of Al-Khwarizmi's work introduced the numerals 0-9, one of many ways in which Islamic cultures have contri...

Constant Mews, Director, Centre for Religious Studies, Monash University - avatar Constant Mews, Director, Centre for Religious Studies, Monash University

Making deer fair game for unlicensed hunting is the right step for New South Wales

The fate of deer carcasses is a crucial consideration in monitoring the success of future culling. Emma Spencer, Author providedThe New South Wales government last week revealed plans to ease shooting...

Thomas Newsome, Lecturer, University of Sydney - avatar Thomas Newsome, Lecturer, University of Sydney

How to choose a Weber Q Barbeque

There are several barbeque brands in the Aussie market today, and it can be quite challenging to find the right one for you. Weber Q is a reliable, barbeque brand that comes in a wide variety of products to choose from. This article investigates th...

News Company - avatar News Company

6 Reasons Why Fresh Content Benefits Your Brand and SEO

When it comes to content marketing, most guides focus on the part where your content needs to be relevant, well-written and well-formatted, all of which are true. However, while all of them speak about quality, most of them forget to mention just...

Diana Smith - avatar Diana Smith

LifeStyle

The Gas Fireplace VS the Wood Fireplace

It’s that time of year again when the weather has turned chilly, everybody is putting out their ...

How to Revolutionize Your Beauty Experience

Being concerned with beauty and cosmetics used to mean frequent visits to the salon and sitting in...

8 Cool Yet Romantic Things to do in Australia

Australia is a wonderful place for vacationing this summer and you can beat the heat as they have ...

How to Banish Dark Circles without the Need for Cucumber Slices

Dark circles can be downright annoying, especially when you are getting enough sleep. So, what cau...