Doli incapax – an odd word with profound significance for South Australian children

The minimum age of criminal responsibility in South Australia is 10 years old. If you are a child under 10 years old in South Australia, you are deemed to be incapable of committing a crime – you are presumed not intellectually and morally developed enough to conceive of the difference between right and wrong.  If you are between 10 and 14 and are charged with an offence, it is up to the prosecution to prove that, at the time of the offence, you understood what you did was seriously wrong, and not just naughty.  If they can’t prove that, you are presumed to be doli incapax (from the Latin ‘incapable of evil’).

Such an obligation on the prosecution is designed to result in a graduated response across an age range where the court can take into account the considerable variation in intellectual and emotional maturity in the young people who appear before it.

Barrister Marie Shaw QC and lawyer Brittany Armstrong presented a paper on doli incapax at the Law Society in January. This was motivated by their experiences representing 10 to 14 year olds in the Youth Court and, in many cases, the protection of doli incapax was not being properly utilised. As young people in care, and particularly those in residential care, are so over-represented in our youth justice system, this particularly affects them.

In a number of cases known to advocates within the Guardian and Training Centre Visitor’s office, doli incapax was not presumed, and in at least one instance the defence was put to the task of proving doli incapax.

If this is to be a safeguard for children charged with criminal offences then it should be considered from the time of police interview, to bail applications, and if a 10 to 14 year-old comes before a court.  It is currently not. The reasons it is not are not entirely clear but could include a lack of knowledge by the child or their advocates of this presumption, the strong desire to ‘plead out’ by a child or their advocate in order to resolve the matter more quickly, or other interactions between the child protection and youth justice systems not yet understood.

By no means is this presumption of doli incapax a ‘get out of jail free card’. Each time a child or young person comes before the youth justice system, they are less likely to be presumed doli incapax.

The implications for children

Research shows that the younger a child is when they come into contact with the justice system, the more likely they are to have sustained contact.

The developmental maturity of children in this age group also means they are often insufficiently capable of engaging in youth justice processes. Children may be more likely to accept a plea offer, give false confessions or not keep up with court proceedings.

Keeping younger people out of the youth justice system would also mitigate the over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander children in youth justice.

International comparisons

Australia’s age of criminal responsibility is comparatively low compared with other countries around the world. The United Nations has proclaimed that the absolute minimum age should be 12 years old with that recommendation likely to increase to 14. The UN has called on Australia to raise the age of criminal responsibility, bringing it in line with its obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

In 1998, England and Wales abolished the principle of doli incapax. Like Australia, the age of criminal responsibility is 10 years old. In turn, any child over the age of nine can be arrested, interviewed by police, charged and then convicted of a crime and receive a criminal record. There are calls for both nations to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

In line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada raised the minimum age from 10 to 12 years, but also removed the presumption of doli incapax. This leaves children aged 12 and 13 vulnerable.

Similarly, Ireland raised the minimum aged from 10 to 12 years old, but it has also maintained the doctrine of doli incapax.

Other countries with the minimum age for criminal responsibility higher than 14 don’t recognise the presumption of doli incapax. For example, Luxembourg, Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay has set the age of criminal responsibility at 18.

While many have argued that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to at least 12, children aged 13 to 14 should still be protected by the principles of doli incapax.

The Training Centre Visitor’s Annual Report 2017-18

graphic of annual report

The first Training Centre Visitor was appointed in December 2016 to visit, advocate, inspect, inquire and investigate matters relating to the residents of youth detention facilities in SA and provide advice to the relevant minister.  This first report covers the establishment phase of the scheme and some individual advocacy with visits proper commencing after the period covered by this report.

You can download the Training Centre Visitor’s Annual Report 2017-18 now.

The Adelaide Youth Training Centre – snapshot 2017-18

boy leaping in the airThe Adelaide Youth Training Centre  is housed on two campuses in Cavan, north of the Grand Junction Road.  One campus caters for female residents, younger male residents and young people in overnight remand and the other houses older male residents.

In 2017-18 there were 671 total admissions accounting for 329 individual young people of whom half or more were in remand awaiting trial.

On an average day in 2017-18  there were 44.31 young people residing in the Centre.  Of these:

  • 9.3 % were young women
  • 24.3% were under guardianship orders at the time they were admitted
  • 62.3% were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent

This compares with highest daily occupancy (since the Magill and Cavan Centres were amalgamated) of 61.06 in 2012-13 and last year’s average daily occupancy of 49.07.

The age distribution of the young people at the time of admission was:

graph of ages at admission to AYTC 2017-18

 

 

7 important facts about young people in youth justice detention in SA

AYTC residents going for a football mark

Each year, hundreds of young South Australians from 10 to 18 years of age pass through the gates into the Adelaide Youth Training Centre.  Each one has a story.  Combined together as statistics, their stories tell us who they are, why they are there and how well our youth detention regime is working

If you have two minutes, and an interest in young people in detention, take this quick educational quiz and learn seven critical facts about them.


What do you know about children in youth justice detention in SA?


 

What Youth Training Centre residents want from their community visitor

AYTC residents going for a football mark

Young footballers in the AYTC going for a mark at the Reconciliation Week game.

Community visits to the Adelaide Youth Training Centre will start this month.  Back in April we asked groups of residents about what they would like from the visits and what they hoped might result.

These are some of the things they said:

‘Why don’t you have a day when you are here each week – like a program?’

          ‘Speak to us as a group.  We might all have the same problem.’

‘Two weeks between visits is too long – you’ll miss all the lovely stories!’

          ‘There’s always stuff going on in the centre that we need more support on.’

‘[We need weekly visits because] anything could be happening in here.’

          ‘We ask the staff to contact you but then we have to wait a few days.’

‘Everyone should have your [phone] number as a pre-set when they come in.’

          ‘If I’m going through a rough patch or I’m not feeling confident, I won’t talk to you.’

‘Advocacy is making time easier.’

          ‘After you talk to the bosses, they treat us better.’

 

Aboriginal children and young people in care and juvenile detention 2016-17

The proportion of Aboriginal children not placed according to the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle has continued to rise.

South Australia’s Aboriginal1 children and young people are vastly over-represented in in state care and in detention centres, according to the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 2018 (ROGS 2018) and the trends are not positive.

The ROGS 2018 data on child protection showed that at 30 June 2017, Aboriginal children and young people comprised 33 per cent of all of those on care and protection orders and were 7.3 times as likely to be in out-of-home care as non-Aboriginal young people. In 2010-11 Aboriginal children and young people were 6.1 times as likely to be in care.

The proportion of Aboriginal young people placed according to the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (i.e. with kin, within their community or with Aboriginal families), has been declining in recent years from 76.4 per cent in 2009 to 62.5 per cent in 2017, below the national average of 67.6 per cent. (See the chart at the head of this story.)

Though comprising 33 per cent of children and young people in care, Aboriginal children and young people comprised 38 percent of the population in residential care.

The ROGS 2018 data on youth justice services showed that in 2015-16, 58 per cent of the population of 10-17 year olds in youth detention were Aboriginal and that proportion has been growing in recent years. South Australia had significantly higher rates of detention of Aboriginal children and young people than the Australian average.

We present more data and charts about this subject from ROGS 2017 in the Guardian’s Snapshot of South Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People in Care and/or Youth Detention from the Report on Government Services 2016-17.

Download the Snapshot of South Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People in Care and/or Youth Detention from the Report on Government Services 2016-17 now.

1 Aboriginal community preference in South Australia is that the term Aboriginal is inclusive of Torres Strait Islander people, a usage we generally adopt in our reports

A Training Centre Visitor for young people in detention

Penny Wright is Training Centre Visitor in addition to being Guardian for Children and Young People. Work is well underway to set up the new Training Centre Visitor (TCV) Program established by the Youth Justice Administration Act, 2016.

At the heart of the new program is the obligation to listen to and promote the best interests of children and young people in the youth justice system. A major milestone is the commencement of Travis Thomas, the first Advocate to start developing relationships with residents at the two Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) sites.

The role of the TCV

The TCV will provide the South Australian community with independent scrutiny of the conditions and rights of children and young people in detention.  This is just the sort of independent oversight body’ proposed in recommendation 15.10 of the recent report of the Commonwealth Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The TCV will promote the best interests of AYTC residents by mechanisms such as an advocacy service and ongoing visiting and formal inspection programs.  As is usual with independent positions of this sort, the TCV also can conduct inquiries about any matters referred by the Minister and can initiate an own motion inquiry about systemic reform.

Progress

With the recruitment of Advocate Travis Thomas to the team, work will prioritise dialogue with AYTC residents to advise them about the new TCV role and to build the relationship necessary to elicit and express their views, aspirations and needs.  Dialogue with other stakeholders will continue or be established, particularly AYTC staff and management, and the community and government agencies with an interest in youth justice.

The detailed work necessary to create an operational framework for the TCV Program is underway including the development of appropriate standards, guidelines and policies.  This will be done, as much as possible, to ensure that the TCV Program will work in line with international standards such as those that will come into force following Australia’s recent ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT)

Special groups

Importantly, the Youth Justice Administration Act directs the TCV to respond to the needs of three particular groups of children and young people . They are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are significantly over-represented, those who are under guardianship in the child protection system and those who have a physical, psychological or intellectual disability.

The TCV program will provide accessible, credible and culturally appropriate services that reflects and promote the views of AYTC residents about  their care, conditions, treatment and opportunities for development.  The program also will identify opportunities for improvements and promote systemic change in the youth justice sector.

The program will comply with Parliament’s requirement that all state authorities protect, respect and seek to give effect to rights set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other relevant international human rights instruments affecting children and young people.  A focus for this will be reference to entitlements enshrined in the Charter of Rights for Youth Detained in Training Centres, also endorsed by Parliament.

Information sessions

The TCV Program team will host a series of information sessions in the coming months to provide further information to interested stakeholders.  If you would like further information or to attend, please email or phone Belinda Lorek or Alan Fairley on 8226 8570.

This story first appeared in the Guardian’s Newsletter for February 2018, downloadable here.

Two bills critical to the treatment of SA’s young offenders

picture of Penny Wright

7 November 2017

It is now just over three months since I took up the role of Guardian and to say it has been a busy time is an understatement! A new job always brings many pressing tasks – but I have been keen to get out into the field and meet as many people as I can among the vast range who have a stake in, and a commitment to, the work we do. Most importantly, I’ve already had the chance to meet some of the children and young people who benefit from our work – both in the office and at the Adelaide Youth Training Centre.

I’ve also set about acquainting myself with the knowledge and expertise that underpins the work carried out by the Office of the Guardian since 2004, coming to grips with the post-Nyland Royal Commission landscape and wrangling some of the administrative and human resource intricacies of my role.

But all of this took a backseat for a time when we needed to respond urgently to some important legislation that, if passed by the South Australian Parliament, would have significantly affected the children and young people for whom we work. One of the bills, the Statutes Amendment (Recidivist and Repeat Offender) Bill 2017 was ultimately not passed in the Upper House. We expect the other, the Statutes Amendment (Sentencing Youths as Adults) Bill 2017, to go to a final vote in mid-November. My office produced a substantial submission on this bill and an opinion piece published in the Advertiser, detailing why it is inappropriate to treat children as adults for the purposes of sentencing when we do not do so in so many other areas of life. It is ironic that the young people who would be affected by this change have not been entrusted with the right to vote for our parliament  because they are not adults. We remain hopeful that the MPs who do have the final vote will cast it thoughtfully, mindful of the national and international standards which the bill infringes.

Other events this quarter have included a review of the GCYP Strategic Plan, which has involved extensive discussion and contemplation about our vision and how we might get there. We are still working on this and I will report on the finalised Plan in the next newsletter. We are also looking to expand or move from our current site as we have outgrown our space. The team is adapting with good humour and forbearance but things are becoming increasingly ‘squeezy’ and we have run out of nooks and crannies.

In the new year I intend to visit more sites, meet more departmental staff in both the child protection and youth justice jurisdictions and hear from more interested and affected participants in these systems – including non-government agencies, carers and concerned community members.

Above all, I will be ensuring I actively listen to the children and young people for whom our office works. As well as capturing their views through the work of the Advocate team, we are exploring new ways to maximise our capacity to hear the ‘voice’ of those who are most intimately affected by the child protection and the youth detention system. We must hear that voice, and share it with all those of us who need to hear it. And together we must heed it.

More about developments and activities at the Guardian’s Office are in the September – November Quarterly Activity Report.

The Adelaide Youth Training Centre – snapshot 2016-17

3 October, 2017

The Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) is housed on two campuses in Cavan, north of the Grand Junction road.  One campus caters for female residents, younger male residents and young people in overnight remand and the other houses older male residents.

In 2016-17 there were 887 total admissions accounting for 388 individual young people1 of whom half or more were in remand awaiting trial.

Of the 388 young people admitted, at the time of first admission:

  • 23.2 % were young women
  • 21.9% were under guardianship orders
  • 48.5% were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent2

The age distribution of the young people at the time of admission was:

ages in AYTC 2016-17

On an average day in 2016-17 there were 49.07 young people housed in the Centre.  This compares with highest daily occupancy since the Magill and Cavan Centres were amalgamated of 61.06 in 2012-13 and the lowest of 47.89 in 2014-15.

 

 

 

1 Some young people are remanded on several occasions or serve several custodial sentences in one 12 month period.

2 The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait young people in the average daily population in of the AYTC in 2016-17 was 62.42% suggesting that their average stay was longer than non-Indigenous residents.

Australia’s OPCAT ratification signals a shakeup in SA’s youth detention oversight

26 June 2017

The oversight of the South Australia’s Youth Training Centre will be energised by the Australian Government’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).

This coincides with work in South Australia on Youth Justice Administration Act 2016 initiatives such as the Training Centre Visitor program.

Recent revelations of the abuse of young people in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and the treatment of other young people in detention centres across Australia, are likely to have been a catalyst for the Government’s decision to ratify.  Last year Australian citizens were shocked to view footage showing young men being tear-gassed, spit-hooded and shackled in the Northern Territory’s youth detention system. This triggered the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory and Commonwealth Attorney General George Brandis suggested the scandal may not have occurred if better oversight bodies had been in place.[1] 

Human Rights Commissioner, Ed Santow, said;

“When a person is detained in prison, a mental health facility, anywhere, they remain human…Protecting their basic dignity is just as important as it was before their detention.”[2] 

In 2009, Australia became a signatory of OPCAT, the aim of which is to prevent mistreatment and promote humane conditions in detention by establishing systems for independent monitoring and inspection.

But ratification is a much greater commitment.

Ratification will make the treaty binding on Australia, and will apply to all places of detention including prisons, police cells, juvenile and immigration detention and secure mental health and disability facilities.

Australian Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell said, ‘We must ensure that we foster a culture of care in our youth justice systems, that is grounded in respect for human rights and the best interests of children and young people.’

Implementing OPCAT will require Australian governments to permit visits from the United Nations Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to any place of detention within Australia.  It will mandate the establishment of an independent National Preventative Mechanism and identify suitable independent inspecting bodies to conduct inspections of all places of detention.

Ratification will include a requirement in law to undertake regular preventive visits to specified places of detention.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman in collaboration with the states, territories and other relevant parties, will be in charge of coordinating inspections and oversight in Australia.

South Australia has already made a start in looking at protections for young people in youth detention with the passage of the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016 in and the adoption of the Youth Justice Administration Regulations 2016.  Among other things, the Act provides for additional sentencing options for young offenders, a charter of rights for young people in youth justice detention and directs the establishment of an official Training Centre Visitor scheme.

Taking on the role of Training Centre Visitor, Guardian Amanda Shaw says that the Guardian’s Office will be very involved with the OPCAT process in this state.

‘The Office is looking forward to working with the State and Commonwealth Governments over the next few months to ensure that the full range of OPCAT protections are extended to young South Australians,’ she said.

For a detailed look at OPCAT in Australia read the recently released discussion paper published by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

[1] Oversight may Have prevented Don Dale: AG, SBS 9 February 2017

[2] OPCAT:Australia makes long-awaited pledge to ratify international torture treaty, Alexandra Beech, ABC 9 February 2017