Monday, 7 August 2017

The Missing Mobile: Impacts from the Incarceration of Indigenous Australians from Remote Communities

Dr. Andrew Taylor

In this new research paper we have provided significant context on the pressing issue of incarcerations of remote living Indigenous Australians. This included addressing incarceration from the theoretical paradigm as a form of mobility and discussing several key aspects of this nexus, namely: Complex individual behaviours and motivations; High churn and return mobility; the ‘immobile’ cohort; historical influences and the question of whether, in some circumstances, incarceration may be a rite of passage. 

Discussion on these aspects highlights both the complexity and multi-layered factors driving and affecting incarcerations, and in turn how these relate to pre-existing mobilities, such as household mobility. 

Our examination and profiling of recent data on incarcerations for Indigenous people in the NT of Australia and review of Australian and international comparative literature points to a range of likely social, cultural and intergenerational effects. With such high rates, and with many prisoners coming from remote Indigenous communities, the magnitudes of impacts for remote communities in the north of Australia and for individuals who are incarcerated are also likely to be far reaching. 

Using a Poisson Distribution to estimate the proportion of 20-39 year-old residents as a means of demonstrating the scale of effects, our results indicate, on average, about 1 in 20 men and 1 in 200 women aged 20-39 from remote communities may be incarcerated at any point in time. However, for some communities these rates could be as high as 14% for men and up to 2% for women.

Such proportions are sufficient to suggest significant impacts on present and future population compositions and on population growth for individual communities. For example, the absence of males is likely to increase the proportion of single parent families. The absence of both males and females aged 20-39 means that fertility rates are likely lower comparative to communities without such proportions incarcerated at any given point in time. Besides a rise in single parent households and a reduction in the number of newborns (from women and men in their prime child bearing years being in prison), incarceration represents another form of temporary out ‘migration’, with flow-on effects for the community including social and economic dysfunction.

Finally, our study demonstrates the complex and multifaceted issues facing residents of remote Indigenous communities in the NT and northern Australia more broadly. Rising rates of incarcerations may be both a symptom of and contributor to historical and contemporary impacts from the effects of colonisation, disempowerment and breakdowns in traditional rules and norms. To help depict and understand some of these layers of complexity we now propose a framework which lays out community level impacts for Indigenous remote communities in the NT. The aim of the framework is to describe in simple terms the interrelationships between high incarceration rates and the resulting social, economic and demographic impacts found in our statistical analysis and the literature (Figure below)

A framework of community level impacts from incarceration; created by the authors

The starting point of our framework is the significant proportions of incarcerated people from remote communities at any point in time. These lead to specific demographic, social and economic impacts. On a broader level, these impacts can bring about the loss of social capital and the loss of social control, leading to greater dysfunction within the community and ultimately increased criminal behaviours. Augmented levels of criminal behaviour in turn contribute to higher numbers of incarcerated people. These interrelationships display the fierce cycle that high incarceration numbers found in remote communities can generate. While in essence this framework can be applied to any community, prior dysfunction in a community, such as in remote Indigenous communities, high incarceration rates and the location of the community, present critical factors in the extent of the effects.

At the moment, a range of ‘Closing the Gap’ targets are in place nationally to reduce disparities between Indigenous and other Australians in the areas of school attendance, life expectancies and work outcomes. The study we undertook underlines Mick Gooda’s call for the need for a social justice indicator as part of that strategy. 

The final pre-publication manuscript of the paper has been published on ResearchGate...
The publishers version is available here…


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