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Question: Alternatives to Incarceration

29 November 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:08): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Attorney-General on the topic of alternatives to prison.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Yesterday, the Justice Reform Initiative released their report titled Alternatives to Incarceration in South Australia. The report argues that investment should be redirected into addressing the drivers of incarceration, rather than investing in jails and imprisonment—particularly for young people. The report states:

Prison does not work to reduce crime; it does not work to build safer communities; and it does not work to address the social drivers of contact with the criminal justice system. It has become an expensive, harmful and yet normalised failure which causes disproportionate harm to Aboriginal people who are significantly over-represented in both the youth justice and adult prison systems.

For young people in contact with the justice system, the report calls for evidence-based, community-led programs to provide off ramps out of the carceral system. The report contains a comprehensive list of evidence-based programs that have been proven to be effective as alternatives to jailing people.

At the September meeting of the Standing Council of Attorneys-General in regard to the minimum age of criminal responsibility, it was agreed that the committee would consider the report and return to the December meeting of the Standing Council of Attorneys-General with a position or an update on the minimum age of criminal responsibility reform in their jurisdiction. It is our understanding that the December meeting will be held this Friday 1 December. My question to the Attorney-General therefore is:

1. Will the Attorney-General, on behalf of the government, be advocating to raise the age of criminal responsibility at that meeting?

2. Will the government finally commit to funding programs and alternatives to incarceration to keep young people out of prison?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:10): I thank the honourable member for his question. He is indeed right, there is a meeting of Attorneys-General due to take place in Canberra on Friday of this week that I will be attending on behalf of the South Australia government. One of the items that has been a longstanding item on that agenda for the Standing Council of Attorneys-General is the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

We will not be announcing something in the lead-up to this or in the near future after that; however, as the honourable member has asked a number of questions—and he has a very longstanding, passionate and sincere interest in this area—work continues in a South Australian context.

I have mentioned before that we are looking to see, if the age was raised, what would come in its place. As I have said before in this place, one thing that we certainly won't be doing is just changing the number in a bit of legislation. The overriding aim that we will be focusing on is what makes the South Australian community safer. Certainly, there are now jurisdictions right around the world—in the UK, in Europe, in New Zealand, in Victoria, in the territories, in other places—that have raised the age, and we are looking at the evidence about what makes the community safer.

There are suggestions that keeping particularly young people out of the criminal justice system can increase community safety. One of the most telling factors about being incarcerated as an adult is contact with the criminal justice system as a juvenile. How that is raised is certainly something that we would need to look at. We have no commitment; we are doing the work to look at it.

One thing that other jurisdictions have looked at is what the age is raised to. I know many advocates advocate for raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14. The jurisdictions that have moved in this space so far have started at 12, with an ambition or a stated desire to raise it to 14. The other thing is whether there are things that are exceptions or carve-outs, and that is something that other jurisdictions have dealt with. Certainly, in the work that we are doing in terms of what would come instead of a criminal justice response—those therapeutic responses—are things like the initial age and whether exceptions is something we will consider.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:12): Supplementary: will the minister commit to giving an update to this house on that work when parliament resumes in the new year?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:12): Depending on what state the work is up to, certainly.