Indigenous people in Australia and New Zealand and the intergenerational effects of incarceration

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Roettger, Mike
Lockwood, Krystal
Dennison, Susan
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Indigenous Australians are imprisoned at the highest rate of any people in the world (Anthony, 2017) and at a rate 16 times higher than non-Indigenous Australians (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018). Meanwhile, the M?ori in Aotearoa New Zealand are imprisoned at 7 times the rate of the general population (New Zealand Department of Corrections, 2019). These disproportional rates of imprisonment lead to disproportional impacts on Indigenous and M?ori children. In Australia, studies have estimated that 20% of Indigenous children experience paternal imprisonment in both New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland (Dennison, Stewart, & Freiberg, 2013; Quilty et al, 2004), while 20% of Indigenous children in Western Australia experience maternal imprisonment (Dowell, Preen, & Segal, 2017). M?ori children are also disproportionately impacted, with an estimated 40% of children between ages 6-14 experiencing a parent serve a custodial or community sentence (Ball et al, 2016).

Experience of parental incarceration compounds existing adversities in the lives of many children whose parents offend and is associated with an increased risk of antisocial behaviour and imprisonment, mental and physical health issues, substance use, academic difficulties, and social marginalisation or exclusion in offspring (Murray, Bijleveld, Farrington, & Loeber, 2014; Wildeman, Goldman, & Turney, 2018; Besemer & Dennison, 2018). These impacts hold true for Indigenous children who are also more likely to experience residential instability, abuse and neglect, and poverty (Ball et al, 2016). The effects of parental imprisonment may extend from birth to death, and across multiple generations and kinship networks. In this research brief, we review existing research and interventions for improving outcomes of Indigenous children who experience parental imprisonment. Supporting children and their families is one way to disrupt the intergenerational impacts of incarceration. We identify the types of programs and policies required to reduce the impact of parental imprisonment on Indigenous children.

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Research briefs: Indigenous Justice Clearinghouse

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© 2019 Indigenous Justice Clearinghouse. For current information go to’ This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Causes and prevention of crime

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Roettger, M; Lockwood, K; Dennison, S, Indigenous people in Australia and New Zealand and the intergenerational effects of incarceration, Research briefs: Indigenous Justice Clearinghouse, 2019, (26)