Legal, health and community advocates are dismayed at the ACT government's response to calls to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14, saying the territory should be taking the lead in reform.
Calls to change the age have been led by Indigenous groups, with Indigenous children overwhelmingly affected by the law, accounting for 65 per cent of those incarcerated below the age of 14.
Aboriginal Australians are 24 times more likely to be in juvenile detention than non-Indigenous Australians.
While the Council of Attorneys-General didn't decide against raising the age of responsibility, a decision was delayed until 2021 and NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said he remained to be convinced of the need to change the law.
ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay has not committed the territory to changing the law here, only to supporting a national position and the process of considering it at the Council of Attorneys-General.
Advocates say Monday's decision means children will continue to be jailed.
President of the ACT Law Society Chris Donohue said that he was "sick with disappointment" over the ACT's position, despite commitments from the territory government to avoid sending children as young as 10 to jail.
"That's like saying 'I agree to have my program to save children from jail derailed by the Attorneys-General of the other states' and that's just not good enough for the ACT," he said.
"It's abhorrent to say children as young as that should be treated in the criminal justice system, children need to be taught. If they are taught by going to jail they will become criminals and perpetuate the cycle of criminality."
Mr Donohue said the ACT couldn't allow its policy to be set by the NSW government's position.
"It is the absolute antithesis. The ACT should say 'no you are wrong, we know what's right, we'll do what right in the ACT, what you in NSW should follow and the rest of Australia should follow'. If our Attorney-General wants to be a champion and hero that's what he should do."
Chief executive of Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT Karly Warner said the ACT could easily make the change.
"We're disappointed by the lack of action at yesterday's meeting of Attorneys-General, but that shouldn't stop the ACT Government from leading on this issue. Every child deserves to be healthy and to reach their potential," she said.
"With just the flick of a pen, the ACT Government could stop forcing kids into the quicksand of the criminal justice system and ensure kids thrive in community and culture."