Exploring the effects of community disadvantage and remoteness on Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples’ risk of reincarceration

Date01 June 2022
Published date01 June 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Exploring the effects of
community disadvantage and
remoteness on Indigenous and
non-Indigenous peoplesrisk of
Nicole R Ryan
School of Law, La Trobe University, Australia; Centre for Health Law and
Society, La Trobe University, Australia
Jeff Ackerman
Griff‌ith Criminology Institute, Griff‌ith University, Australia
Stuart A Kinner
Justice Health Unit, Centre for Health Equity, Melbourne School of
Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, Australia;
Centre for Adolescent Health, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute,
Australia; Mater Research Institute UQ, University of Queensland,
Australia; School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash
University, Australia
Community disadvantage and a persons residential geographical location are believed to be
risk factors for crime. This research aimed to go beyond examining individual-level risk factors
for reincarceration and explored the impact of community disadvantage and residential geo-
graphical location on Australias Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoplesrisk of reincarcera-
tion post-release. Descriptive analyses, logistic regression and Cox proportional hazards
models were conducted using survey and linked administrative data for 1238 prisoners. We
found no relationship between residential geographical location and reincarceration for either
Indigenous or non-Indigenous people. Moreover, no relationship between community disad-
vantage and reincarceration was found for non-Indigenous people, however, results indicated
community disadvantage to be a protective factor for Indigenous people. Potential explanation
Corresponding author:
Nicole R Ryan, School of Law, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.
Email: nicole.ryan@latrobe.edu.au
Journal of Criminology
2022, Vol. 55(2) 144161
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/26338076221093808
for this perplexing f‌inding is discussed, as are potential implications for how we view and
measure community disadvantage for Australian Indigenous people.
Indigenous, reincarceration, social disadvantage, remoteness, kinship
Date received: 29 July 2021; revised: 25 March 2022; accepted: 28 March 2022
Australias Indigenous prison population is at a record high with 12,092 Indigenous people cur-
rently serving time in prison (ABS, 2020). Accounting for 2% of Australias population aged
18 and over, Australias Indigenous people are over-represented in the prison system by an
age-adjusted factor of 13, making up 29% of Australias total prison population on any
given day (ABS, 2020). Efforts to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous incar-
ceration rates in Australia have been unsuccessful, and Indigenous incarceration numbers con-
tinue to grow. Prior studies that attempt to explain Indigenous over-representation at the most
general level do so primarily by questioning whether Indigenous people are arrested and incar-
cerated more often than non-Indigenous people (Willis, 2008). Few studies, however, focus on
Indigenous recidivism and prison re-entry to help explain the over-representation of Indigenous
people in prison. Those that do, have largely focused on examining differences in recidivism
between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people for specif‌ic types of offenders (i.e. non-
aggravated assault or burglary (Weatherburn, 2010) and violent offenders (Willis, 2008)),
and have only focused on Indigenous males (Wundersitz, 2010). The majority have only
been able to explore a limited number of explanatory factors (e.g. Giles & Whale, 2016). As
such, what we know about prison re-entry and the risk of reincarceration for Indigenous
people is limited. Although prior research has indicated that Indigenous people have higher
reincarceration rates than non-Indigenous people and has identif‌ied a small number of
factors that provide an understanding of the causal mechanisms involved (Ryan et al., 2019;
Ryan et al., 2020), there remains a clear need for further research to uncover a greater
number of these causal mechanisms. For example, almost no research examines whether dif-
ferences in the social ecology of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoplescommunities
explain Indigenous/non-Indigenous differentials in reincarceration risk.
Understanding more about the risk of prison re-entry is critically important to the design of
treatment, reintegration, and support programs for ex-prisoners that intend to reduce their risk
of reincarceration. A common recommendation is that programs should be individually tailored
to address criminogenic needs. From arrest through to release from prison, the criminal justice
systems response to offending behaviour, and societys, is focused almost exclusively on the
individual, implicitly characterising crime as an individual-level problem, and thus failing to
acknowledge the wider structural and socio-ecological drivers of offending behaviour. From
this hyper-individualistic perspective, it is argued that the individual simply chooses to
commit a crime, and as such should be held accountable and made to take responsibility for
their behaviour. However, choices are not made in a vacuum, but rather inf‌luenced by wider
social and structural mechanisms. Crime is generally the by-product of larger social problems
that exist beyond the individual; therefore, not all blame can, or should, be placed on the
Ryan et al. 145

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