Keenan Mundine talks about when he first went to jail at the age of 14 for stealing a laptop

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Keenan Mundine was 14 when he first went to prison for breaking into a car and stealing a laptop.

“ I was placed in a dorm with 30 other boys and there were nine and ten-year-old boys who had been there for months, ” said the 34-year-old.

Some of them couldn’t even read or write. None of them were visited by their parents. ‘

Wakka Wakka and Birpai’s husband grew up in The Block in Redfern, Sydney, an experience he describes as ‘f *** ing awful’.

Mr Mundine (left) changed his life and co-founded the Aboriginal-led charity Deadly Connections with his wife Carly (right)

Mr Mundine (left) changed his life and co-founded the Aboriginal-led charity Deadly Connections with his wife Carly (right)

“There were no doors, windows smashed, rats and cockroaches everywhere, abandoned buildings, people flying up in my backyard playing on my trampoline, people overdosing, people being stabbed,” said Mr. Mundine.

“It was all normal to me.”

Mr. Mundine’s parents died by the time he was seven and he was separated from his siblings.

His arrest at the age of 14 marked the beginning of years of involvement in the juvenile justice system.

“I was homeless, I had no job, I had no parents, I had no one responsible for me and they just opened the gate after I finished my time and took me back to the wolves,” said Mr. Mundine.

Keenan Mundine (pictured) has been advocating for years to raise the age for criminal liability from 10 to at least 14, in line with most international jurisdictions.

Keenan Mundine (pictured) has been advocating for years to raise the age for criminal liability from 10 to at least 14, in line with most international jurisdictions.

Keenan Mundine (pictured) has been advocating for years to raise the age for criminal liability from 10 to at least 14, in line with most international jurisdictions.

Poll

Do you think the age of criminal liability should change?

  • Yes – 10 is too young 3 votes
  • No – they know what they are doing 50 votes

“I only knew what the community was teaching me to do and that was take things that weren’t mine because I needed them.”

Mr Mundine changed his life and founded the Aboriginal-led charity Deadly Connections with his wife Carly.

He has been advocating for years to raise the age for criminal liability from 10 to at least 14, in line with most international jurisdictions.

Across Australia, children as young as 10 can be arrested by the police, detained, convicted by the court and imprisoned.

It is estimated that almost 600 children between the ages of 10 and 13 were in custody in the last financial year. More than 60 percent were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Keenan Mundine (left) first went to jail for breaking into a car at the age of 14 and stealing a laptop

Keenan Mundine (left) first went to jail for breaking into a car at the age of 14 and stealing a laptop

Keenan Mundine (left) first went to jail for breaking into a car at the age of 14 and stealing a laptop

Cheryl Axleby, co-chair of the Aboriginal-led judicial coalition Change the Record, said discriminatory laws and police are to blame for the overrepresentation of indigenous youth in the criminal justice system

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely to be detained, arrested and charged by police rather than warned, and put on remand instead of released on bail, she said.

The sooner a child is driven into the criminal justice system, the more likely they are to stay in it, she added.

“If we lock up children from the age of 10, it is not only a prison sentence, but a life sentence.”

Rodney Dillon, a Palawa elder from Tasmania and indigenous rights adviser for Amnesty International, agrees.

‘Living in that system does not solve the children’s problems. It just makes the kids worse, ”he said.

Mr. Dillion said children under 14 who end up in custody are more likely to skip school, have an undiagnosed disability, suffer from underlying trauma, and come from poor families.

Mr Mundine (pictured) grew up in The Block in Sydney's Redfern, an experience he describes as 'f *** ing awful'

Mr Mundine (pictured) grew up in The Block in Sydney's Redfern, an experience he describes as 'f *** ing awful'

Mr Mundine (pictured) grew up in The Block in Sydney’s Redfern, an experience he describes as ‘f *** ing awful’

‘We know that poverty, poor housing and justice all live together. Why don’t we address all three problems? Mr. Dillon said.

“All we do, because it is simple, is lock up children.”

Mick Creati, a pediatrician and senior fellow at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, said children under 14 should not yet develop the ability to control impulses or foresee the consequences of their actions.

“We criminalize children from the age of 10 for behavior that is explained by their immature brain development, disability, mental illness and / or trauma,” said Dr. Creati.

Children under 14 who are brought to court are believed to be ‘doli incapax’, meaning they are incapable of committing crimes because they do not have a guilty mind. But young people can be in custody for months during the legal argument.

In January, more than 30 United Nations member states, including Canada, France and Germany, called on Australia to raise the age.

The Australian Council of Solicitors General agreed to consider raising the age to 14 and has explored alternatives to imprisonment.

Last year, ACT became the first jurisdiction to commit to raising the age of criminal liability to 14, calling on other states and territories to follow suit.

Pressure is mounting in Victoria, where a national inquiry into the historical and ongoing injustice against indigenous people has been launched and a number of discriminatory laws have been abolished.

The Greens have introduced a bill to the upper house to raise the age, but both major parties said they would not support it.

“Tackling the root causes of juvenile crimes is our number one priority,” a Victorian government spokesman told AAP, pointing to a juvenile justice plan aimed at better outcomes for young people.

AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY AROUND THE WORLD

* Australia – 10

* Canada, Netherlands, Scotland – 12

* Germany, Italy, Spain – 14

* Denmark, Greece, Norway, Sweden – 15

* Portugal – 16

* Brazil, Uruguay – 18

On Wednesday, the attorneys general will meet for the first time this year, although the anticipated ministerial reshuffle of the federal government may delay and it is unclear whether raising age will be on the agenda.

For Michael Kennedy, a former NSW police detective who works at the University of Western Sydney, raising age alone isn’t enough.

“There is no point in raising the age of criminal liability to 14 if nothing is done about unemployment, drug and alcohol problems, sexual assault and domestic violence,” he said.

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman said the average daily number of young people in custody in the 2019/20 fiscal year was the lowest since 2002.

Mr. Mundine said the cost of inactivity was high.

“The ripple effect of not raising the age of criminal liability will undo another 50 years of trauma,” he said.

‘I try to stay positive and optimistic and hopeful. Because I proved them wrong in terms of how they measured me … and where I would end up. ‘